This week, I had the experience of leading class on my own for the very first time. My mentor teacher had to be absent and left her three classes with me. She later noted this experience as being my “baptism by fire” and it is safe to say that is probably an accurate description of my feelings during leading those classes. Throughout reading Choice Words, I found myself wishing the knowledge from this book was put into my mind a week earlier. Peter Johnston reminded me that as we are teaching students about language and its power, we should also remember that our language has power as well. Now that realization may seem obvious or silly to you, but it hit me hard as I was reading Choice Words because I wish I could have handled my speech in front of my students with more care. Each and every word we use to address our classes has repercussions. As I am reminding my students to note means of persuasion used in Julius Caesar, how am I not reminded about the power my own language holds?
At every impatient moment (indicated by the chance of tone in my voice), I could have used those moments as opportunities to engage with a student, revisit the situation or question from a fresh angle, invite them to rethink an idea, or pose a question to help spark agency in these students. Johnston’s book hits on lots of examples on how we can make sure our students know their thoughts and opinions are valuable, which is the hold reason many of us go into the teaching field in the first place. Although Choice Words presented helpful tips in negotiating the social signals in a classroom and ways in which to encourage students, it, most importantly, reminded me to revisit and reevaluate the value I put on my own language – the weight it holds in my classroom and the encouragement it can offer to my students.
Going forward, I hope to take the practices and advice presented by Johnston in Choice Words as a source of wisdom for when I enter the classroom. I humbly understand that I have much to learn in this field and a long time until I even begin to feel like I’m starting to figure it out, and my “baptism by fire” and Johnston’s words helped move me one step forward and maybe even a little bit wiser for the next time (& each and every time after) that I get to meet with my students.