SOL16 Day Two: What I Learned at School Today

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.




25 thoughts on “SOL16 Day Two: What I Learned at School Today

  1. Oh yes! “The teacher’s words hold immense power. Use them carefully.” I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. It’s among the most important lessons my students have taught me. I need reteaching sometimes. Thank you for the powerful reminder!

  2. I love how you captured this teachable moment by the horns. You didn’t shy away from your dissatisfied student. You found out the why and set an intention. A strong lesson for us all.

  3. So perfect tthat you followed up with a sense of urgency to dig deeper with “C”. A simple 3 letter word “But” with so much feeling of hurt. . . Now I’m wondering how she would feel about “YET”. Would it feel so negative? Does it depend who says it?

    • I thought about that. I think if we use it in the same way as but, students will think of it as a but. I think remembering that she had to work pretty hard to do what she did is the big thing and the focus. Maybe asking a student what they need next is the best way to nudge them on.

      • I like that “giving ownership and control” back to the student. Push and pull doesn’t really work – I like “nudge” and replacing “but” with “yet” is a positive WHEN the student chooses to do so (not when I so choose). Simpler – just keep my mouth closed and offer FEWER comments! Questions are better!

        Such wise advice my friend, thanks for thinking with me!

  4. One word has such power to shut one down. Loved the way you described her before and after she knew the word wasn’t from you. Kids teach us so much!

  5. Such an important lesson! One I’ve learned from my son: no more buts. I cringe when I catch myself saying it. You wouldn’t think one little word would have such power to shut down a child, but it really does! Sometimes I feel like I can never be intentional enough in my words–especially when I use so many of them in a day. At some point, I lose the caution and something comes out in a way I didn’t intend.

  6. I once had a kid sit with me for a conference and say “I hope I did it right this time”. I died inside and really reflected on what I say to kids and how I say it. It was a HUGE lesson for me.

  7. As an adult writer I am still stopped in my tracks by the “but.” Also, I cannot believe how much my conferring has changed since I stopped using “but” and started using “and”. This post perfectly illustrates the “but” principle. Thank you!

  8. Strange how short words can have such power and how easily people can forget about them. I like how many (I hope many) educators are weeding “but” out of their vocabulary when giving feedback.

  9. What a powerful reminder that what we say as a teacher really does affect the student. We need to give much more specific feedback and not just good job but….

  10. I like that you shared this, Julieanne, and learned early on when I saw my own words played back in my students’ portfolio reflections, most of the time the good remarks, BUT not always. I learned to be careful, as you so wisely advise. Thanks.

  11. I’m ashamed to think of how many times I’ve said “but…” to a student. I love Fran’s idea of using “yet” instead. Thank you for reminding us to use our words with care!

  12. Hi there! I miss your post yesterday. You are on a roll with “little words that mean so much!” But, yet, just…Yay! You are always thinking and sharing and it makes us think and share.

  13. I think my life got infinitely better when I stopped using ‘but’. Sometimes it’s scary to me how much power I actually hold in my classroom. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  14. I think the other lesson to be learned here is how often you reflect on what you do. You go deeper if you need to. And then you reflect on what’s happened. A good lesson for us all.

  15. I’m always reminded of Peter Johnson’s Choice Words. I work hard to say you did this so well! Done. End of story. Doesn’t everyone want to hear just the good things occasionally? Great post.

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