Teachers and the power of the spoken word

UNICEF estimates that a billion children attend school everyday and many children spend about a third of their days in school. It is therefore critical to ensure that the school environment is a nurturing one where children can learn, explore and grow at their own pace and with allowance for their individual differences to flourish.

Teachers are role models that children look up to, crave their approval and have the unique opportunity of understudying the children and working out ways of helping to improve the child and help him/her to succeed.

The flip side is that they also have the power to break vulnerable children and cause them to lose their self esteem and confidence. Or make them give up, accept that they can never do well and simply stop trying to do better.

While the focus of this article is on the influence of teachers, in our various homes and work settings, we can all imbibe the habit of staying positive and encouraging others instead of putting them down and denigrating their efforts.

It’s always helpful not to write off people too quickly. Sometimes, the investment of confidence may be the shot in the arm, that they need to blossom and actualise their latent potentials.

The story below was shared by a senior colleague in Medical School and friend (OluShego) via facebook. He is now a physician in the United States. His narrative is presented below, as it is very instructive about the enormous influence teachers can wield over a student’s future trajectory.

Of course, we acknowledge that there are several potential factors that may influence a child’s attainment of his or her potentials, but the pivotal role of teachers cannot be over-emphasised. Please enjoy the story.

The personal story of a physician and his primary six teacher:

I’m sure that if you ask most of my primary school teachers, they’ll tell you that it’s crazy to imagine me being here. I’m the last one they would expect to be a doctor because I was known for being extremely playful, very unserious and a notorious pit bull bully at that. Back then some kids even called me SMD (Short Man Devil) and one of my primary school teachers actually called me a “ruffian”.

First time I ever heard the word. I thought it just meant being a rough person, until I checked the meaning years after. Every time I get my report card, as expected I am not disappointed; I’m always part of the lower third of the class. Perennially! I never bothered reading the teacher’s comments; though my performance was disheartening, my mum kept all my report cards!

I “thought” my primary six (6th grade) teacher (Mrs. Adejumo) was the one that hated me the most. I thought… because she would always double my home-work and assignments compared to other students. She gave me no break if I couldn’t finish the work the next day. If I don’t finish the work, I get a serious licking… simple as that.

So, I truly thought she hated me. Until we had an open-day visit during my sixth-grade year where she told my mum (right in my presence) that… “he is a very, very smart boy, only that he’s very playful. If he could spend more time with his books, he’ll be very good.”

I was thinking she only said that because my mum was here. I then went back to read all the comments on my report cards. Alas! That’s when my mind’s eye opened up! Right from primary one through six, all the teachers said the same thing! “Smart but too playful”!

Those words changed my life forever! Though a little bit late, I started believing in myself from the sixth grade! I started “trying” to be less playful and to spend more time reading.

The words that come out from our lips can either bring life or death… those words spoken by my sixth grade teacher brought life into my life. I’m forever grateful to and for her. Best teacher ever! She believed in me even when I didn’t know myself.

Now as much as I don’t love or hate drinking water but see it as a necessity, I see reading in the same light. I don’t love it or hate it, but I need it.

So, let’s be mindful and careful with the words we say. It can either make or break, build or destroy, kill or breathe life into the lives of those we say them to.


“Speak life with the words you say; use your words to inspire… with every syllable, hope can either live or die.”

– Toby Mac

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