Teaching middle school for thirty-three years gave me a great appreciation for the English language. I love the way middle schoolers use words, and nothing thrills me more than seeing the transformation that takes place in eighth grade as those young teens begin to understand the nuances of language and learn to express themselves in ways that make sense to them and to others. They leave the dense fog in which they’ve been trapped for three years and start to take ownership of words. Until that transformation, language is a challenge for them and for those with whom they communicate.
I especially remember compliments I would get from students who dearly loved me but had difficulty putting their good intentions into words. I believe good intentions actually do pave the road to perdition, but those middle school good intentions always made me smile. Once, when I changed my hairdo, a young man told me that my hair didn’t look nearly as bad as it did before. I paused for a moment and quickly said thank you, but in my head I added I think:) I got lots of those middle school compliments, mostly about my age and my hair. I accepted them as sincere efforts at being polite and practice in expressing themselves effectively. The words “for your age” usually began or ended their attempts. Once I realized that middle school students clump everyone over thirty into the same category, my pride was appeased.
The only thing that matters about words of encouragement or compliments is the heart handing them to you. Those students were sincere and loving, so I was thankful for each one. The same comments are not nearly as endearing when they come from adults, but it’s still the nature of the one speaking that is important. Good natured folks often say things that cause me to bristle, but I just remember those middle schoolers and say what we always say in the south. “Bless your heart!” If you’re from the south, you understand. If you aren’t, it would take too long to explain:)
Words carry great power and should be taken seriously, especially when I’m angry. I tend to let my anger get the best of me when my pride is bruised or my heart is broken. I say things I don’t mean but fortunately it is usually only the walls who witness my weakness. I’m thankful to have close friends who hear my heart and listen to my hurt pride without judging. A loving response helps me find perspective. Pride steps aside as the voice of reason enters the heart. Humor also helps when I get a response that reminds me of my middle school days:)
I do miss being around middle schoolers, but reminders of those sideways compliments and twisted words of encouragement put me right back in the beautifully upside down world where words just don’t come out the way one expects. So to all compliments made by those who haven’t quite mastered the nuances, thank you, I think:)