Five Rules for “Fitly Spoken” Words in the Classroom

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Proverbs 25:11


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Even this early in the school year, there is need for teachers to speak with directness to students. Clarity and straightforward communication is both necessary in an effective teacher -student relationship. However, teachers must develop a skilful communication style that gets to the point without being harsh.  There is no place for a brash, in-your-face communicative style in the classroom.

In a digital culture embolden to speak without appropriate restraint because one can hide behind a veil of social media, teachers must guard against adopting a harsh or brash communicative style with students. The wisest of all men warned us to make our words “fitly spoken.”

Here are five rules that should guide teacher communication with students.

Do not “provoke to anger.  Just as parents are warned to train their children without provoking them to anger, teachers who labor en loco parentis should be careful not to provoke with words. Even though many students submit to harsh words spoken by a teacher, bitterness can take root in the heart of the student and spring up into an angry spirit.

Avoid sarcasm.  Teachers must not give in to the temptation of “making a point” by spewing sarcastic remarks. I confess that I have had to make concerted effort in this area. Why? Because I have observed first-hand that sarcasm (literal meaning is to “rip or tear flesh”) does not edify but destroys the heart of a student. Often our sarcastic words are a means of venting our frustration and anger.  Students do not respond well to being “ripped.”

Watch your Tone.   While the primary definition of tone refers to the quality, pitch, and strength of vocal sounds, the meaning of the word also refers to the “general character and attitude” of our spoken words. I recently reviewed some research that found that as much as 38% of our communication was done via the tone of our voice. It is not always what we say but how we say it. Listen to yourself!  Better yet, ask a cohort to listen to your tone. Are you communicating in a pleasant tone or one that grates on students. Proverbs 12:18 says “there is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise is health.”

Use gestures.  Sometimes a teacher can better communicate by a gesture than words. Very often a combination of gestures and words will prove more effective than just words. For example, teachers can point, use other hand signals (necessitates students making eye contact with the teacher), and perhaps use a nod of the head to communicate clearly and without harshness. I heard it said that “when all other means of communication fail, try words.”

Speak in love.  We are to speak truthfully with students; however, that is only part of our responsibility. Paul reminds us that truth is to be spoken in love. While it is easy to soothe our hearts by recounting our truthfulness and straightforward speech to students, our communication is never to be without love. What is love?  Love is “doing right by the cherished object.” (Romans 13:10)  As teachers, we must allow a genuine heart of love to control our speech.  Remember, perception is reality!  Students should hear love in our words, even those that are spoken correct.

These are just a few of the rules that should guide our speech as educators.  We must ask ourselves (and others) if our words are being “fitly spoken?”  Dare to ask others to help you evaluate your communication with students.  Record yourself.  Be honest with yourself.  Accept suggestions and honest criticism from others.

Do you  have other suggested rules that you use to guide your classroom speech?  What not take a minute and share with us.  Perhaps this list of five will grow to ten.  Make it your prayer that you would never offend students through your speech!

Edward is the founder and managing editor of Focus on Christian Education. He also serves as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools.

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  • Dan

    My two favorite suggestions here are the use of gesture and the importance of speaking in love. Thank you for these excellent reminders of efficient and effective communication. What I say and how I say it are completely revitalized by running them first through the filter of love. Do I love my students? If I do, I have an obligation to communicate that love through everything I say! Spot on!