Let’s talk about your weight. I could say a lot about eating more vegetables and less meat and encouraging each other toward healthier habits. But that’s not what I’m referring to. Let’s talk about your teaching weight.
In his role as president of Compassion International, Wess Stafford spent 20 years interacting with children and their caregivers around the world. His book Just a Minute is a compilation of stories and experiences that show how a moment in time can have a lifelong impact on a child either for good or ill:
Tragically, the lifelong impression that can set in motion a compassionate, caring, confident, productive member of society can just as quickly and easily be negative, inflicting a wound that festers and destroys a life—both in just a minute (p. 16).
Here’s what he says about teachers in his book:
But over the years, whenever I have asked people about their most powerful “just a minute” experiences, teachers have consistently emerged as the greatest heroes among us (p. 49).
Maybe it’s the “authority” we’re assigned, our visibility in the classroom, or the fact that we’re shining light in dark places. Whatever the reason, we’re in a position of influence in the lives of students no matter their age. Our actions and in particular our words carry weight. James seems to acknowledge this when he warns against taking the role of teacher lightly and then spends the next few paragraphs listing the dangers of an unbridled tongue. (See chapter 3.) And so we should be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Not only do our words and actions carry weight but so also do our attitudes. During this summer’s visit to my home country, I spent some time with teacher friends. Here’s how one conversation between a high school English teacher and a retired 4th grade teacher went:
T: Some of the kids carry their parent’s old phone that has no cell service, just so they fit in. So sometimes for class activities, I loan them my phone or iPad. I’ve never had anything stolen. Some of the other teachers have, more than once, but it’s never happened to me.
J: That’s because you respect your students, and so they respect you.
T: It’s true that some of the teachers don’t really care about their students, or they look down on them, and the kids can tell.
Not long ago I was talking to a former student, and she repeated back to me some words I had spoken in passing after a class one day. They were words I’d rather not have heard again. I can only imagine their effect on her, especially since she remembered them three years after the fact. Whether we seek it or not, whether it’s deserved or not, our attitudes and actions can have a huge influence on our students; our words carry a lot of weight. An overwhelming responsibility, perhaps even a burden, but it’s also an opportunity to bless those made in the Master’s image and plant seeds of peace.
 Wess Stafford, Just a Minute (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012).
 James 1:19.
 James 3:9 & 18.
Whether in teaching or not, we have all spoken words we later wish we could take back. But I believe you are correct that a teacher’s words can be especially effective for good or ill.