Can I Say Something Mean?

Second graders.  They are my favorite age to teach! On the verge of independence, they can be trusted with much, yet they still need you. They’re excited to come to school. Standing at my classroom door every morning, I watch them come in the gate with a smile and once they get close enough, they take off running and greet me with a huge hug. Everything is exciting to them, from science experiments to flashcards. They always bring me flowers or lollipops and tell me they love me all day long. All the cuteness aside, they have a lot of growing to do. My class has 12 girls and 5 boys this year. As you can imagine, there is drama on a daily basis. Surprisingly, it usually involves both the boys and the girls. We got to a point last week when they needed a little bit of help from someone with a little more life experience than the person they sit next to.

I was trying to think of how I could effectively help them relate to each other in a kinder way. How can I teach them, from a biblical viewpoint, to love each other rightly? I mean, they’re saying things to each other that I would never say to a friend. They’re being sly and sneaking behind my back. They’re pushing and shoving because they don’t know how to use their words. They needed some training to get back on the right boat. After all the best ships are friendships!

I decided I was going to use some of our class time to guide them through their issue. We all sat down in a circle on the floor and I asked my them to describe God. They gave lots of beautiful responses about who our great God is. Then, I drew a picture of a friend we named ‘Jack’. I told them they could say whatever they wanted to him and they all looked at me a little confused. After about 30 seconds of silence (which is a long time for a seven-year-old), one of my little girls raised her hand. She asked just question I was waiting for “can we say something mean?”. Once I gave them permission, the comments came spewing out. With every unkind comment, we crumpled up our little friend until he was in pieces.

Afterwards, we read a verse from James that says “out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this is not right.” We talked about what this could mean and the implications that it has in our classroom. I gave my students a chance to say something kind to the person sitting next to them. We went around in the circle and each child had a turn to lift someone up. What I was most taken aback by was the struggle they had to say something nice to a friend. It was like pulling teeth. My aid and I had to help them generate a phrase to give and they did it with shy, timid voices. They were so quick to rip apart our friend Jack yet they couldn’t find a kind word to share with a friend.

This experience lit a fire me to continue teaching them how to love one another. It may sound simple but it is something we have to learn. It has been amazing to see the change in their hearts after a little bit of guidance. We all need a little bit of that along the way and I’m so thankful for these little people that I have the attention of each and every day. They grow me, challenge me, and humble me. They fill me with joy and love me fiercely. They teach me more than they’ll ever know and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity I have to be their teacher.

Sarah Oltra, GEM Principal and teacher