This is a message of encouragement for anyone out there who is feeling discouraged, especially teachers, by the hurtful and toxic words of someone else who is bringing you down and causing you to question what you’re doing, and maybe even who you are as a professional educator. We all need to maintain our humility and be open to constructive criticism. We can all get better, no matter “how many years we’ve been in the game” or how much experience / how many degrees and certifications we have. There are times, however, when other people, for reasons we may never completely understand, say things and do things which bring us down and can even encourage us to question ourselves at a basic level. If you find yourself in that place today, or you have recently, then this message is for you.

Never let someone with a toxic voice and destructive message tell you who you are.

As professional educators, many of us recognize and embrace the understanding that our role in the lives of children and in our communities goes far beyond simply transmitting information and helping others develop academic skills. We understand teaching is a “calling” and a mission field, for which some people are more naturally suited but which everyone can learn to thrive in as a leader, as a counselor, as a coach, as a designer of powerful experiences, as a facilitator and a collaborator. Teaching is both an art and a science, it is a profession to which many are called and even more are needed. Teaching is far more than a job: It’s the opportunity to help shape the minds, character, hearts and futures of other human beings who may well be transformed forever by the experiences we have learning, sharing, growing and “doing life together” inside a classroom. As teachers, we know our students are not the only ones being transformed and continually “remade.” We, also, can be continually renewed and transformed by the experiences we have learning and growing alongside others.

Never underestimate the power of your words. Like Harry Potter and the other wizards and “wizard apprentices” at the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we each have opportunities to either bless or curse others with our words every day.

It can be extremely challenging to work closely with someone else, whether they are a colleague, a supervisor, a parent, or family member, who says things which continually attack us, challenge us, and encourage us to question not just what we are doing but also who we are as professional teachers. I am not talking here about positive encouragement to grow, to try new things, to stretch beyond our current, perceived boundaries. No, here I am talking about someone who, for reasons that may remain a mystery for all time, say things which have the direct effect of wounding, hurting, tearing down, and destroying. Words like these are toxic and can have real effects on our lives and the lives of others around us. The words we and others say MATTER, and that is why it’s vital we assertively take control of and direct the “internal dialog” we have with ourselves: The words, phrases, and images we repeat to ourselves which reinforce our identities and senses of self.

Always remember who you are, and what you were born to do and contribute to our world. Identity is not a journey which ends at age 18 or 21, it’s a lifelong adventure which continues to morph into different seasons. As we age, as members in our family move away or even pass away into the shadowlands, we grow and change as does our sense of identity and purpose in life.

As a Christian and follower of Jesus Christ, I understand that we were each created and endowed by God with special gifts and important work which we have the opportunity to do here on earth. If you have been blessed with the spiritual gift of teaching, then it is literally your calling from God to teach: To care for, nurture, and develop the minds, hearts and spirits of others in your care.

No matter what negative or hurtful things other people may say to you, as you journey ever onward and upward in your career as a professional educator and teacher, never forget who you are and who you are called to be. To the degree you are able, surround yourself with positive messages and encouraging colleagues who can lift you up each day as you struggle to meet both challenges and opportunities. The development of a digital professional learning network (PLN) can be a powerful, positive ingredient in our personal recipes for wellness and strong mental health as educators and teachers. Choose to listen to and surround yourself with voices and messages which inspire and edify, rather than tear down or destroy.

I will leave you with a 74 second video of our youngest daughter, Rachel, recorded 9 years ago when she was just seven years old. In this interview she was talking about art and creativity, but she references with remarkable insight and confidence “the voice inside that tells you what to do.” As you continue on in this academic year, I challenge you to get in touch with and listen to your inner voice. If other people are trying to “hijack” your inner voice, cast them out of your mind and assertively take control of your inner, mental dialog. Be strong and confident in knowing who you are, what work you have been called to do, and your sufficiency to meet the challenges you face. You are enough, and you can overcome the obstacles which stand in your way. You were born for this. Go forth, and TEACH.

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