We’ve all heard the rhyme “sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Why is it that we are fully aware this is not true, yet we continue to teach children the rhyme. Words are powerful. Words can encourage, celebrate, humor and… words can hurt.

Words can tear down, discourage, anger and destroy a career before it even begins. I had the fortune of sharing a meal last week with a young girl from my town. In May, she will graduate with a degree in elementary education. She is an amazing young woman who loves children and always has a smile on her face. When I asked her about her plans after graduation, she shared that she was thinking of going ahead and getting her Masters degree…in business! I thought I heard wrong. When I questioned her further I found that even though she loves children and has thoroughly enjoyed her classroom experiences thus far, she has become disenchanted with the profession before she’s even started. How has this happened? It’s because of words. The complaining, critical, negative words about the state of education from the teachers she is currently working with and others she has come in contact with have caused this potentially great teacher to give up before she’s even begun.

What are we doing?! Sure, there are hot topics and controversial issues in education including the way teachers are regarded. No, I don’t think we need to pretend these things don’t exist. However, the way we talk about questions and concerns is impacting those around us, especially our young teachers. Have we forgotten that regardless of how we feel about homework or grading or merit pay or pay in general or the lack of respect for teachers, the bigger issue is children. As I told this young woman, all children still deserve a good teacher.  I am not saying abandon the fight. All I am saying is remember who we are fighting against and who we are fighting for. Also, be aware of who is listening. It is our responsibility as educational leaders to change the conversation. We have to be the professionals we demand others see us as.

So, give me the sticks and stones. Bruises and broken bones will heal. Sometimes the damage done with words can’t be undone.