pondering the power of words

I could talk endlessly about power. But let me be specific.

It’s really starting to dawn on me just how impactful being a teacher is, specifically to her students. I had a little bit of an existential moment last week when planning a lesson for my students about Jack London’s Call of the Wild. I was presenting to students London’s literary use of naturalism in his writing, and then doing a close reading of the text thus far. As I was pulling out key quotes to create an analysis worksheet, I suddenly recognized my own agency in all of this… in picking out passages, in assigning areas to focus on, in reading my own reading of the text. It was truly that ‘sage on the stage’ mentality, and whether I had realized it or not, agree with it or not (for another conversation), it had snuck up on me! This was my interpretation of this particular passage. This was my particular selection of what I considered meaningful in the text. These were my ideas that I was sharing, and unlike Math or Science with distinct in/correct answers, these were my ideas. And ideas are powerful. Just taking a second to recognize just how impactful my words are, of any teachers’ words, if they are accepted and swallowed without question.. That’s power. My valued judgments, implicit or not, come up and out in conversation, and slowly help influence how my own students’ think whether they recognize that or not. So is the power of education.

So what’s the way around this discomfort?  I recognize that my opinions are my opinions; I take ownership of that, but am uncomfortable knowing that my own feelings might influence the way my students think in a uni/linear way. They don’t deserve that! Students deserve the chance to hear multitudes of perspectives before honing in on their own and giving credit and owning their thoughts. Who am I to tell students what to think? Yes, I’m standing at the front of the room. Yes, students call me Ms. Bautista. Yes, I’m playing the part of the teacher, but as an educator? But I can’t tell you how to think. As a human being, in general, I can’t tell someone else how to think. The best I can do is share with them my ideas and explain to them my reasoning, but I’m in no position to think that I can impose such ideas into someone else’s beliefs. Am I being too optimistic? Hm.

So, with this little irksome thought in mind, I fell back into my habit of finding my bearings in others’ work for inspiration and a little more perspective. I figure, giving my students a chance to learn about naturalism is wonderful, but they should also be exposed to critics of that thought period and other cannons of thought that were prevalent in literature.

Just a few thoughts I thought I’d quickly write down before the moment passes.

And so it goes,


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