Skip to content

edu180atl: chris swann 9.19.12

There is a poster in my classroom that reads, “Words hurt.  Words heal.  Words mean.”  As an English teacher, I tend to treat written words as almost sacred objects.  I constantly ask my students if they are using the best words to say what they want to say.  I point out how poets are obsessed with words, how Hart Crane paged through an unabridged dictionary to find the right two-syllable word for a line of verse.  (He finally stopped at “spindrift.”)

For all this professed power of words, I often fail to pay attention to my own.  A few years ago, I rebuked a senior for plagiarizing and reported him for disciplinary action.  Later that day, as I was getting ready to go home, the same senior knocked on my office door and asked if we could talk.  Irritably I glanced at my watch and said, “Yeah, I’ve got five minutes.  What do you need?”  He closed the door behind him, fell into a chair, and began sobbing.  He had come to ask me for help in facing his parents.  That took guts.  And in a teachable moment, I failed him.

Words are tools, and we are imperfect craftsmen.  Even great poets like Tennyson write lines like “Form! form! Riflemen form!…Look to your butts, and take good aims!”  But adults who work in schools have a unique influence on, and responsibility for, students.  We should model a wiser and more deliberate use of words.

Words hurt.  Words heal.  Words mean.

About the author:  Chris Swann—English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School—is a teacher, reader, writer, husband, and dad…not necessarily in that order.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. That student clearly had a lot of respect for and trust in you to feel free to come to you after that incident. I had a moment today where I realized that sometimes policies and procedures (in my case) are so much less important than the relationships we create over time, and that I need to work hard to develop and share the gift I have for building those strong, lasting relationships. I don’t know you, but sounds like that might be one of your gifts, too.

    September 19, 2012
  2. “He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.

    She was the book thief without the words.

    Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

    ― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

    September 19, 2012
  3. Stephen Kennedy #

    Chris, this is a powerful post, and it means a great deal to me as a former English teacher, a head of school, and someone who himself has hurt many but I hope helped more with words. We all fail our students — and others — at times of stress and simple exhaustion and haste. It is so important to go back to the one we harmed with authentic feeling in our words of apology – each syllable, each sound a poem of heart and soul.

    Words and sentences and paragraphs can be arrows, confetti, snow, bullets, angels, motes of dust, rising steam, raging fire — and the hopeful reach of one human being toward another. As we strive to make meaning, and make contact, we cannot help but struggle to find and use words to connect with each other. Even as we fail, we succeed in the effort.

    Thank you for a truly moving vase of posies, bucket of rain, handful of rice — oh yeah, and a nifty set of words that helped me learn a lot more about the power of words in my own life.

    September 19, 2012
  4. Like he said, like she said. Thank you, all. Words, words, words–like he said.

    September 19, 2012
  5. Natalie Sterrett #

    Love your post, Dr. Swann! I think about you all the time in my poetry class!

    September 19, 2012
  6. Thank you, all. If I’ve made an impression on the four of you, I must be doing something right.

    September 20, 2012
    • Stephen Kennedy #

      And think about all the people who read your words but commented only silently….

      September 23, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: