By Bing Parks
A RAP LESSON
My students’ favorite music genre is rap. We will analyze the messages in rap lyrics and discuss the impact of the rapper’s diction. Sometimes the students wonder why we are spending so much time on the lyrics and ask if they could just listen to the song and move on. They argue that they are just words, after all. So, one day I told them I was the best wrapper in the room.
“You can rap miss?” they asked.
“Yes. Especially around the holidays. I am the best wrapper in my family, and probably in this whole school,” I challenged.
The students looked at me incredulously. I told them that I would wrap for them when they completed their work, and they could judge for themselves. When we finished working together, Harris, one of my most persistent students reminded me to fulfill my word, and so I did. I took a large piece of paper, asked them to give me a beat, and then told them to pay attention since I was about to blow their minds. I proceeded to wrap a book in construction paper while describing how to do it. A couple of boys laughed while the others looked at me and annoyingly retorted, “You finessed us!” (slang for: you tricked us)
That’s when I replied, “See, that’s why words are important.”
THE WORD, THE MENTOR TEXT
I pay close attention to words. I agonize over choosing the right ones to speak and write. In short, words carry significant weight for me. Maybe because I am an English teacher, I marvel that God is the “Author and perfector” (Hebrews 12:2) of our faith and that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) When I am teaching students to draft essays, I begin with a mentor text. We read it and annotate for specific skills that the author employs. Jesus, being the word of God, is our mentor text. If Jesus is the word of God, then what did God the Father speak to us? He spoke love, redemption, forgiveness, correction, truth, comfort, and the desire for relationship. Jesus, himself spoke that he was the way, the truth, and the life. As Christian educators and leaders, with the privilege of speaking into people’s lives, do our words illuminate the way? Do we speak the truth in love? Do our words bring life?
EATING THE FRUIT
Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue has the power of death and life and those who love it will eat its fruit. This verse makes me consider the seeds that I am planting and what kind of fruit I will eat.
As leaders, the words we believe about ourselves, and others grow fruit. Negative words produce bad fruit, even when they are never spoken. If we think that we are impostors or ill-equipped to lead, we will inevitably sabotage ourselves unless our thinking changes. If we believe that students are problems, or that they cannot learn, we will not give them the chance or the tools they deserve. If we think negatively about our peers, we will manufacture reasons to stay disconnected rather than build community.
On the other hand, we often do not share the good fruit. Words like “Thank you,” “You worked hard on that,” or “I love you,” often remain buried. Positive, life-giving words left unwritten or unspoken, dismiss the opportunity to lovingly affirm others. When people hear positive, encouraging words, they begin to believe them. And when people believe, relationships are cultivated, connections are created, and people flourish.
LAST F.E.W. WORDS
In his book, Just Teaching, Dr. Jon Eckert advises educators that, “Our relationships must be about more than simply academics. At its core, the relationship between teacher and student is grounded in truth and love, which are expressed in three primary concepts: feedback, engagement, and well-being (FEW).” (p11)
Just teaching seems just like what Jesus did. When he restored Saul’s (before he became Paul) sight, he shared feedback that enabled him to grow into God’s vision for his future. (Acts 9:1-18) When he invited Nathaniel, he engaged him with the words, “When I saw you…” (John 1:48) When he healed the woman with the issue of blood, he spoke relationally, calling her “Daughter,” and addressing the core of her well-being. (Luke 8:43-48) When we consider the words he spoke, the way he spoke them, and the purpose of his words, we encounter a real application of a F.E.W. good words.
Bing Parks is an educator at Lonestar High School Central, a school within the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Bing teaches English and her students range in age from 11 to 18 years old. She was recently featured on the Just Schools podcast, “I Don’t Want to See My Students Here Again.”