This year I am ending 8th grade with speaking essentials. Our last task is a This I Believe speech. Here is mine.
Make wise choices. I’ve dismissed nearly every class period of my teaching career with this admonition. I believe that if my students hear it repeated often enough, and most will hear it 180 times, the mantra will pop into their minds when the opportunity for an unwise choice inevitably arises, and perhaps influence them to choose the wiser course. There are so many opportunities in any given day to choose. Speech or silence? Kindness or cruelty? Lend a hand or walk away? Every choice is a fresh opportunity to grow in wisdom, whether proactively or reactively. Let me teach you how.
It began in my favorite grad school course “Mental Health in the Classroom.” Every class period, our instructor dismissed us with “Be careful out there” which he borrowed from the old police television show Hill Street Blues. It was his way of showing us affection while also practicing what he preached: creating a warm and caring classroom environment. I wanted to emulate him without copying his phrase, but I didn’t know what I wanted to say. However, my students taught me.
Students often act as if teachers are blind and deaf, especially in the hallway or between classes. Since I am neither, I can’t help overhearing the stories of their weekend shenanigans or latest drama. I repeat, I am listening. I listen to what is unsaid, too: the fears and dreams and temptations. I worry about them. How can they be so foolish with their precious lives? How could I have been so foolish at their age? One day, the phrase popped into my head as students were leaving class on a beautiful May Friday afternoon, and I said it: Make wise choices.
It became the only rule in my classroom. All behavior choices, wherever they fall on the spectrum from wise to foolish, can be addressed with this rule. Are you making a wise choice right now? What might be a wiser course of action? Are you CERTAIN you know the definition of wisdom?? Listen, let me teach you.
Wisdom chooses to listen. Wisdom pays attention to others. It resists impulse, delays gratification, and practices patience. And boy, do I need some! Wisdom puts first things first instead of procrastinating. I struggle with these choices every day. I bet you do, too.
I believe that when my students hear me say, “Make wise choices!” every day, they know I also mean, “I care about you.” And “Take care of yourself.” I hope they know I am paying attention to the person they want me to see, as well as who they really are behind that mask. And that no matter what happened in class today, I mean, “Please come back tomorrow, preferably in one piece.” It is never too late to start, or start over, in making wise choices. Forgiveness is the wisest choice. And I will always choose it with my students. Most importantly, I mean to communicate that if your choices leave you broken in pieces, it is the pursuit of wisdom and learning that will help you reshape and heal.
I know broken. I am learning wisdom. Please, let me teach you to make wise choices.