Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Who thought of that ridiculous saying? Words can absolutely hurt. Sometimes, words hurt the most. I’m going to share my experience I recently had on learning the lesson of the power of framing words. Let me start off by saying, I know that the people I will write about, 100% care about me and meant well with their comments. I recognize that and am not doubting it whatsoever. I’ve had time to reflect on various situations and have been able to shift my thinking. This post will be honest and raw, but typing my thoughts always serves a therapeutic purpose, and maybe I can shed light on the power of framing words to others.
Also, let me provide a bit of context before I begin. I’ve been at the same school for eight years, and I absolutely LOVE it. I taught first grade my first year in a different district, then third grade for four years and fourth grade for four years. I was an early childhood major in college (and also got my elementary certification). While the little ones have always been my passion, I grew to love my third and fourth graders. I was continually amazed by their sophisticated thinking, the growth they made, and the level of rigor they were completing. People outside my school often asked me if I’d ever consider changing schools to be able to work with younger kids again. Nope. It was never a second thought. The school where I teach is the best, from the administration to the coaches to the staff to the parents to the students and to the community. Many of my coworkers have become some of my best friends. Alright, so what in the world prompted this?
first day of school in 2013
Last Friday I was called into the principal’s office. As I’m sure it is with anyone walking into their boss’s office, I was nervous as I did not know what to expect. “I have to move you to first grade next year,” she said. Instantly, my eyes welled up with tears. My mind began racing with the first thoughts coming to mind were that I was being separated from my team. The last several years my team was the best. Literally. We worked seamlessly with each other and tirelessly for the growth of our students. We shared the responsibility, trusted each other, and loved each student as our own, no matter whose class they were in. We celebrated together and problem solved together. We were a team through and through. We knew it wouldn’t last forever, but I was so shocked that this was happening without any warning and that I was going to be the one leaving.
After I left the office, it was time for me to pick up my students from music. We went back to my room, I shut the door, and I got my students started on some work. Then, I checked my email. Official staffing was released which meant everyone knew I was moving to first grade (along with several other changes in the building). Two of my wonderful teammates came to my room, gave me hugs, asked if I was mad and sad, and what I was feeling. Each time, the tears flowed and I became upset all over again. My mind was racing as I was trying to process everything. Over the next 24 hours, I received emails, texts, and calls “checking on me,” asking if I was ok, or how I was doing.
At some point in time, I really started reflecting on what was happening. For the past eight years, whenever I filled out my grade request change sheet, I always put my current grade as first choice, and then first grade as my second choice. I LOVED teaching first grade my first year of teaching, so why was I so upset? As I tried to find the root cause, I became more confused. I loved teaching the little ones. I was excited about this opportunity. But because everyone assumed I would be upset, distraught, and unhappy, those types of feelings that were lingering inside me were automatically propelled because everyone expected me to feel that way.
That’s not to say I wasn’t feeling any of those things initially. There were many factors contributing including the process, changing friendships, and the worry of learning entirely new curriculum. But those concerns should have been secondary to my excitement. Then, I became angry. Why were people assuming such negative things with my grade level change? Yes, leaving my team is and will be the hardest part, and I’m definitely not happy about that. I know there will be other challenging times throughout the rest of the year knowing I will be leaving the team. But really, there are many positives to the situation. My post is not really about the change in grade levels. Change is always hard. My post is about the lesson in the power of framing words. I began to wonder if instead of people asking how upset I was, if they framed their words differently, in a more positive manner, would that affect how I felt about the situation? I fully realize that I should be in control of my own thoughts and feelings without letting others affect me so. I’m also not saying I felt that way solely because of people’s initial reaction. Some of those feelings were inside, but joy should have been the primary emotion.
I called my aunt who is a retired teacher and spent a great majority of her time in first grade specifically. Without providing any context to what had happened, I merely told her I would be moving to first grade next year. “Congratulations!” was her immediate response. Wow, what a difference that made! When I told a few other non-school people, they all had similar reactions as they’ve known about my desire and passion to teach younger kids. Receiving the happy and excited responses helped confirm within myself that I, too, really was excited about this opportunity. The more positive people were with their reactions, the more positive I felt about the change.
So here’s the lesson: we need to be careful with our assumptions and how we frame our words. Even though our words can have the most empathetic intentions, how we frame them can really trigger how a person feels. I know they did for me. Again, I know the words my dear friends asked me came from a place of compassion, care, and concern. I was surprised with how much they affected me when, really, I just need some time to process and reflect on an individual basis first.
I don’t think there is / was one right way for how to handle the situation all around. I think we’re all doing our best, and like everything else in life, it can be looked at as a learning experience. I don’t want to dwell on the negative pieces. Frankly, I don’t want to talk about anything negative today. I want to be excited about this change and look forward to the cuties I’ll have in my classroom next year. And I will definitely try be more thoughtful and positive with how I phrase questions, words of encouragement, or pieces of advice in the future, especially with sensitive topics.
Were you ever surprised with the way someone else’s words affected you?