Of all the areas of education, early childhood, elementary, middle school, or high school, the middle school area is one of the most challenging. In middle school teachers and their principals are engaging young people who are at the “change of life”, not a true teen and yet not an elementary child. In fact, one of my teachers stated that all middle school students should be placed in a stainless steel building with razor wire to keep them inside. Touchingly compassionate and at times hatefully cruel, the middle school student stumbles, kicks, and whines his way through his middle school years in a search to become an adolescent ready to face the challenges of high school.
For the past ten years, the middle school students and teachers have been under my care as principal. I can attest that all teachers have a calling to teach, but there is a special angel on the shoulders of those teachers who enter the halls of middle school. I can also attest that some of my most rewarding experiences as teacher and principal have come as I entered the hallways of their domain. But let me not paint too serious a picture here, for I have also had some of the most humorous predicaments of my educational career in those hallways.
One of these experiences occurred with a very familiar trait in the middle school mentality, the “slip of the tongue”. Freud stated that these slips identify the “true” thoughts of the person. Lord, help us if this is true, because they frequently occur in the middle school and if they truly represent what our students is thinking, then Lord have mercy on us all.
My math teacher, Mrs. Nabors, was laboring with her eighth grade students in the study of pre-algebra skills. A concept that is difficult for many students that letters stand for numbers in equations. Remember; back when you were to solving for X? An abstract concept that I am convinced is above the developmental stage of many middle school students. Hours of class time had been spent at the board working equations. Many days I entered into her room to see her standing with students at the white board covered in black erasable marker, her board tinted gray from all the problems that had been worked and erased. She was worn thin with explaining where the X came from and was glad to see that the next chapter in her book was the geometry chapter. Relief from X’s to the memorizing of geometric shapes and formulas. You can implement drawings and projects with geometric shapes and measuring experiences which would be a welcome change for her and her students.
Mrs. Nabors announces to the class, “Students we will leave algebraic equations and begin our next chapter tomorrow. It is on geometric shapes and their formulas for perimeters and areas. This will be a great chapter to do some hands on activities with shapes and measuring. You will need to bring in your compass, protractor, and graph paper, and if you have some colored pencils, no markers, that will help you in completing assignments.” Mrs. Nabors could see relief and excitement in the class.
In the back of the room a hand shot up, Bill, a good math student.
“Do you have a question, Bill?” asked Mrs. Nabors.
“Yes m’am, answered Bill, is this when we get to do circumcisions, I love to do those.”
Deathly silence fell in the Math class. Then snickering, is this a “slip of the tongue” or does Bill have the wrong word. Mrs. Nabors can see on Bill’s face, he has no idea that he has said the wrong word for circumference, and that he has no idea what the word means that he has said. Of course, there are several in the class who know the exact definition.
“Bill, states Mrs. Nabors, in her best matter of fact voice, the word is circumference, and I am glad you enjoy doing them.”
Howls of laughter follow and Bill, with an inquisitive look on his face, he still doesn’t get it.
“Mrs. Nabors, what did I say, is circumcision, not the right word?” ask Bill.
“No, Bill, it isn’t but I think it best if you go home and talk with your Dad. Class, enough, let’s finish the review problems for a quick quiz, says Mrs. Nabors. A test that, always works in achieving silence and silence was definitely a necessity for Mrs. Nabors.
Words, they are so important. They can make a day or break one, bring joy to the heart, lift up the soul, or send them both crashing into the ground of hurt. God reminds us that words are powerful in Proverbs, 18:21 “Life and death are in the power of the tongue..” and in Proverbs 16:24, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and health to the body.” It is all of our ministry as Christians to speak words of Life to those around us. Choose to speak words of encouragement, words that heal and not harm. It is God’s commandment to love, in word and in deed. So do a good deed today, speak God’s Word to someone today, it will leave a sweet taste in your mouth all day.
Oh, and what about Bill? Well he asked Dad, and came into Math class the next day looking sheepish. “I’m sorry Mrs. Nabors, my Dad told me what the word meant, and said I should apologize for disrupting your class,” stated Bill.
“Bill, don’t worry about it, you learned a new word, and you have made me a memory. I will never look at the word circumference the same again. I will always have a twinkle, put there just by you. In the words of Clint Eastwood, Bill, you made my day!” said Mrs. Nabors as she patted Bill on the back.
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down,
But a good word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25 NIV
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