The Art of Language
By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Sean Tucker teaches a variety of language arts classes in a middle school in Central Illinois. Some might say he has led a charmed life since he graduated from college two years ago. After all, he lucked out by getting a teaching job in his hometown. Fortunately, a veteran teacher resigned at the last minute, one day before Sean was scheduled to interview. It looks like he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
You might say and think those things, but Sean Tucker wouldn’t. You see, Sean is a language teacher. Words, phrases, and language patterns matter to him. He senses the art inherent in language and is careful about how he talks and thinks. Consequently, he chooses not to use the language of luck.
The words charmed life, lucked out, fortunately, and right place at the right time that appear in the opening paragraph are not part of Sean’s vocabulary. Nor does he use good fortune, chance, magic, or coincidence. According to Sean Tucker, these words “embellish the myth that luck exists and is at work in our lives.” Assigning the success of his job hunt to luck would be disowning the part he played in that success. It would be giving up personal responsibility and giving it to something else: in this case, “luck.”
“Who do you think wrote my resume?” he asked. And who earned the grades that appear on his transcripts? And what about the relationships he has built up over the years with the current school personnel? Is that luck? “Hardly,” Sean states, steadfastly refusing to use the language of luck to diminish his sense of personal power. He chooses not to give some mysterious external force credit for his success or his failures.
Sean Tucker also teaches his students about the language of luck. “I guess it wasn’t in the cards,” one of his seventh-graders announced after hoping for an “A” and not receiving it on a vocabulary test. Mr. Tucker used that occasion to abandon his scheduled lesson on dangling participles and teach instead about the many words and phrases in our language that refer to the concept of luck. He talked to his students that day about the results of assigning responsibility to fate or fortune when things do or do not go well. “You can assign the results that show up in your life to fate or luck, or you can take the responsibility yourself instead,” he told them. “Where you place the responsibility goes a long way in determining what you can and will do about it. If you talk as if you are responsible and see where you are responsible, you are more likely to take responsibility to do something about it. If you assign the results to luck, you tend to see yourself as someone who cannot affect the results. The choice of how to see these situations is yours.”
During the year Sean Tucker heard other students disowning responsibility for the results they produced. “I didn’t have any luck with him at all,” one student said after an unsuccessful attempt to talk another student into loaning him a pencil. Other examples of disowned responsibility he heard included:
“Unfortunately, everything went wrong
with my presentation.”
In each case, this second-year teacher stopped his planned lesson and pointed out the use of the language of luck. His efforts helped his students become conscious of using this style of language and the effect it was having in their lives.
Sean Tucker is aware that the language of luck is not mentioned in his sixth- or seventh-grade curriculum guides. He knows that it is not one of the concepts tested on the state assessment instruments he is expected to administer each year. Yet, he never wavers in his insistence on helping his students appreciate the importance of this language concept. “I am a language arts teacher,” he says with great pride and emotion. “I am expected to teach the parts of speech, how to diagram sentences, and how to construct a meaningful paragraph, among other things. Those are all important mechanics for children to learn. And I do a good job teaching the mechanics of English. But I am more than a mechanic. I am an artist. My job is also to teach the art of language. And I do that equally well.”
To say that his students are lucky to have him as a teacher would not be an appropriate ending to this piece, would it? Let’s just say that we’re hopeful Sean Tucker’s students are alert enough to appreciate and recognize the important contribution this teacher is making to their understanding of the power of words and the importance of language.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The 10
Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. They are two of the world's
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