C. was saving her first slice for March when I walked by. I put her summary from last week on her desk. Walked on and heard, “Ugh, there’s the but.” Her comment had a weary edge to it.
What? Did she mean what I thought? I turned back toward her. “What about but?”
C looked sheepish.
“Did I write but on your paper?” I asked. Then I saw. “Oh, that comment is from N. Not me.” I felt like the kid saying I didn’t do it!
“Oh,” C said. She smiled, and the fight or flight look drained out of her.
N wasn’t there, so I pulled up a chair, and we talked about her classmate’s feedback.
This moment stuck with me.
C felt it, thought it and said it out loud. There it is again, the but. The qualifier that makes her feel less than.
C is a student who is an avid blogger. Funny. Popular. And, she has a history of “buts”. C has heard a lot of, good job, but… And with that word, she has been told, again and again, she doesn’t get it.
We teachers can lean into “but”, the deficit, with the best intentions. I know that but could have come from me.
Yesterday, C was a master teacher with a powerful lesson: When student feedback has been liberally sprinkled with “but” the message received isn’t “try harder,” it’s “you came up short again.”
The other thing that sticks with me is C’s change in stance. When she found out the “but” didn’t come from me, it didn’t sting. She sat up and relaxed. What an important reminder: The teacher’s words hold immense power. Use them carefully.
Thank you, C. I appreciate your feedback.
Happy March 2nd, Day two of the Slice of Life Challenge.
Thank you, Betsy. Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara for the tremendous writing community you have created and maintain at Two Writing Teachers. Read more slices here.