Blog Your Blessings: Finding the Words

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You somethin', Miss."
"Yeah? What am I?"
"You just somethin', Miss. Tha's all."
"OK."

This exchange followed a literacy class in which a group of eighth-grade students read a newspaper article about one of their favorite rap artists. I chose the reading material based on their request. The kids in this rowdy rough-and-ready class actually competed to read aloud.

It worked because they worked hard. At the end of class, they made several requests for lessons based on other artists to their liking. No problem. I'm good with going where they are and working my way up, even if it's a long way up.

And it is. I realized when my student called me "somethin'" that she didn't have the words for what she wanted to say. Whatever she was experiencing about my class went beyond her vocabulary. Was this a good thing or a bad one? Dunno.

A few days later, her friend and the second most obstreperous person in that room stood with me during my hall duty. She didn't say a word to me but smiled and talked with her friend until I had to go. "Nice day, miss." That was it, and it was worlds away from the usual grunts I was getting in response to my morning greetings.

I feel for these kids because so often I am in the same place. In fact, I have a friend who jokes when I am dumbfounded: "What? The English teacher at a loss for words?"

Just the other day I felt the pain of that loss; I couldn't communicate. A friend asked a question I couldn't answer. It was too difficult for me to find the words, to go to that part of my own experience where I might find them, to actually express what I was feeling. I felt stupid. I felt completely inadequate. I felt vulnerable, afraid I would choose the wrong words and create a misunderstanding.

I needed time to think and to hear the words, "OK." I needed the unconditional acceptance and offering of time that comes with OK.

Those words came. And I am thinking; the words will come. And I am wondering if the inner-city kids have any idea how much their teacher from the suburbs with the college degrees knows their pain. I wonder if I'll find a way to tell them.

Words are everything. Finding them is a blessing.


Blog Your Blessings

Comments

  1. It's ok .... and this is such a beautiful story because I believe you have gotten to the core of these kids and to understanding them. You're beautiful!

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  2. Sometimes, words aren't even necessary BUT I agree, that finding the words is a blessing! I really enjoyed reading about this teaching moment.

    I won't have mine up for at least another 24 hours. Come by then for NYN but you're welcome anytime for whatever I happen to show .

    Paulie who will also check out your post below.

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  3. It isn't the words but the feeling behind the utterances. "Somethin" was her concise way of saying she thinks you are wonderfully terrific and she appreciates your caring. You sound like a kind teacher.

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  4. I tried to teach inner-city seventh graders science and failed miserably. You have my deepest respect.

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  5. I'm sure they can't imagine that you could possibly understand. However, it does sound like you may be making some headway. I have great respect for teachers with the imagination and patience who can get to these kids. God bless yo for you efforts. Maybe a few will see the light. Pappy

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  6. Words are everything. Finding them is a blessing.

    yes indeed yes indeed...what a beautiful story!xoxo

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  7. words are important but we communicate lots through body language and the way we treat each other. with a true friend, you can honestly say-i'm not ready to talk about that now or i can't find the words and they will understand. sounds like you were a terrific teacher and reached your students on many levels. congrats.

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  8. Your way withh wondrous words will lead them to finding their own. God bless everyone who gives their time and patience and love to those who are seeking their own voices but dont have the tools to do so.

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  9. This is a beautiful story, Sandy.
    Your broadmindedness and helpfulness are really admirable.

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  10. Oh my heavens, Sandy. Your words are so eloquent. Your students are incredibly lucky to have you teach them. You really are "somethin."

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  11. I know what you are saying, but I also think like Meg "You're something" is probably exactly what that girl wanted to say to express her feelings.

    Words are important. It is often difficult to find the right ones for me as I speak, in Dutch as wel as in English. The habit of regularly writing down your thoughts helps to find more and better words, I think.

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  12. It sounds like you do a very good job we are all lucky that there are people like you!

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  13. Losing words and thoughts is the most frightening thing: I went through this last spring and feared everything--early dementia, brain tumour, who knew? It's Fibromyalgia, which isn't too bad, and a new medication has given me back my brain.

    Fatigue, pain, clumsiness, NONE of that was as hard to deal with, as struggling to say something I knew I had the words for, but the words were gone. Frustration led to fits of anger and despair, and I feel for kids who struggle to express themselves, whatever the reason is--my two-year-old can't speak a word, and sometimes she just stands there, shaking her fists and screaming.

    Hugs GALORE when that happens, because I know how she feels. So I think that the FM might have been a gift, to help me understand her and help.

    You've definitely got a teaching gift, and a rare one I think--I know many teachers who were eaten alive by city middle-schoolers.

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  14. Thank heaven for teachers like you!
    You certainly are a blessing in the lives of these youngsters.

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  15. Ah, Sandy, those kids are so lucky to have you! Poor Richard would be proud! :)

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  16. bravo sandy!!!!! here by way of poetic leanings,, and scott is on spot.. this is nearly the perfect post...

    the words you chose were perfection,, and your deep desire to be one with your students screams from the page...

    bravo girl.. bravo!!!!

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  17. what a lovely story. my daughter is a teacher; and I am sure can relate

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  18. You are eloquent in your writing, and I only wish I had teachers like you when I journeyed through my school days.

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  19. So very profound, and such a wonderful testament to your work with these kids. You're getting through, and that is a beautiful thing!

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I also write, and am delighted to find a blog about writing. I'll visit again.

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  20. Anonymous4:24 PM

    What a very touching moment I stumbled upon. I came to view photos of clouds and found you meditating on communication with kids. I believe you and your students are lucky. They are lucky to have you teach them. You are lucky to peer into their lives and see how you inspire them.

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  22. I think that bringing a person to the point where they are at a loss for words is a good thing.

    Moments like that highlighted that classes provided real-life tools: being able to say "like the whole 'Old Man and the Sea' thing" would suddenly make me realize that this was not a class whose only purpose was to annoy me but something that could help explain how I felt.

    That would provide a connectedness not just to people around me but to the past as well. I was not alone in my feelings. There were reasons to read some of these stories other than just wanting to pass a course.

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  23. Very thought-provoking. And I think "somethin" is the ulitmate compliment...no more words needed. I know exactly what that young woman thinks of her teacher - and it's all good and wonderful. Quite clearly, even if you do find yourself at a loss for words, you're an extraordinary teacher.

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  24. Oh aren't they just? Words are just everything. If anyone can find a way to tell them, you will Sandy.
    That girl is right - you really ARE something.

    More words of blessing at Cath's Cradle

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  25. Anonymous12:29 PM

    I loved reading about the growing relationship between you and your students. I do think its important for kids to know-adults/teachers don't always have the right words or answers.

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  26. Anonymous12:29 PM

    I loved reading about the growing relationship between you and your students. I do think its important for kids to know-adults/teachers don't always have the right words or answers.

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  27. words... such a blessing

    reminds me of how a teacher once told me that language itself is life & life is language

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  28. The memories flooded through me just now reading your words … of those decades working with Middle Schoolers … my own struggles with finding the right words when I try to blog from the heart … and relief that I’m not the only one. Thank you. Mine’s up at Sacred Ruminations … along with some other ‘stuph’ too.
    Hugs and blessings,

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  29. Finding the right words at the right time is a true blessing!

    Hey, I was wondering if you would consider writing an article or two for The MAG (http://themag.in) every now and then!

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  30. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Again, you go deep. These children are blessed to have you in their lives. I know that you are making a difference.

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  31. There's not too many days that go by that I don't thank my mother, father, assorted other family members (especially ma Grandpere,) my Latin teachers, my smattering of self-taught ancient Greek, and even my love of languages ranging from Urdu to Yiddish for helping me maintain a healthy lexicon... and yes, even with my standing "at home" of being the overly intelligent one, I have utter brain-death moments where I can't come up with the word I so desperately need...

    Still, when the right word comes up... be that simply the perfect description or the ultimate in the esprit de escalier, it's a true, true blessing...

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  32. Lil,

    OK! in certains parts of the world that means I understand and is often communicated with a big hug!

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  33. You're a special kind of person, Sandy. You're making such a difference in the lives of those kids......Peace - D

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  34. Communicating isn't only a matter of words, I imagine. It's also feelings that are showed, attitude, perception, choices made.
    I'm sure your students are conscious of your devotion and your efforts to go over them.
    Myself, with my partial knowledge of English, just reading your comments, I can feel that you're an open-person, ready to make the first step, attentive to others since your comments are always judicious.
    But, you know like me, that, it can work if students are ready to invest themselves too. Are they ready to make their own step toward you ? That's the question.

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  35. That must be hard. I thought I was the only one who occasionally found myself at a loss for words. I hope your new friend finds the words she's looking for. Sounds like she thinks a lot of you. :)

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  36. You amaze me with how you capture even the unsaid words... Thank you for sharing this... :-)

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  37. Words are SO important... but, they are not everything. Think of the wife who's husband says he loves her, will tell her that she's pretty, yet never touches her in a tender way.

    Your student spoke volumes to you!
    She did it with a look, a stammer, a stutter that was all she had to express her emotions.

    You are a master with words, Sandy. There is no doubt of that. But, it is your soul that draws me to you. I feel that I could sit in a room with you pouring over photographs you have taken and I would come to know you and love you as one of my deepest friends in silence.

    You did make a comment on Lin's blog that makes me worry about you somewhat. Know that you have touched many lives, mine is but one. Also be assured that I care about you and would nurture you as best I can through any hardship or heartache that faces you.

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  38. I agree with Paul. A hug, a pad on the back, and a smile can often communicate far better than mere words alone. What a lovely and very honest post. Best to you always as you try to touch these kids.

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