I’ve been thinking about a substitute teacher I had for a few days in the sixth grade. From time to time this woman pops into my mind. I’m not sure what sparks the memory.
I was the kind of student who was always well liked by my teachers. I never talked back, got good grades. I did what I was supposed to. I followed the rules. But this one particular time our regular teacher was off for a few days, and we had a substitute.
Suddenly I could do nothing right. Every little thing I did, this teacher picked up on. I was scolded again and again for reasons I couldn’t understand. I felt belittled and small, insignificant. In a few short days I went from being a happy student, who liked school, to one who couldn’t seem to do anything right.
I was miserable. I hated school. If I didn’t cry, I’m sure I felt like it.
Then one day this substitute asked us to write something creative. I didn’t have to think twice about what I would write. I wrote about teachers who have no respect for students, who berate them and treat them unfairly. The words flowed onto the page like magic. I vented. I purged. I got it all out of my system. It felt good. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I was suddenly aware that words were powerful. It was the first time I was able to express myself fully, in a way that didn’t make me feel self-conscious. I didn’t think about what would happen once this woman read my essay. I didn’t care. I’d discovered freedom. It was at my front door. It came in the form of the written word. It felt right, good and just!
For some reason I don’t recall having any more problems with this teacher. Maybe it was because our regular teacher was back. Hallelujah!
I do, however, remember the substitute teacher passing our assignments back the next day. “So that’s who wrote this,” was her comment. And do you know what? I didn’t much care. I wrote what felt right, what needed to be written. I was able to breathe a bit easier.
I’m sure this teacher hasn’t spent the past forty years pondering what a sixth grader had to say in an essay. I’m thinking that my words didn’t make such a big impact in the grand scheme of things. But I learned a valuable lesson during that time with that substitute teacher. Words have power, not just for the person reading those words, but for the one writing those words.
Do you remember when you first discovered the hidden power in words or did you come to the realization over time? Are you more comfortable expressing yourself verbally or does the written word offer you much more freedom to think and be who you are?