I rolled my eyes a bundle in seventh grade, especially at my English teacher. He sat in his rocking chair and spat off rules of grammar, he read books with us that had little significance in my daily life, and he was quick to catch us passing notes. But, 28 years later, I recognize the value of what he taught me. He taught me one of the most significant lessons in all of my schooling. It’s something I’ve held onto… something I use daily. He taught me not to use the word “nice.”
The very first day of seventh grade, Mr. Bogdan outlawed the word “nice.” While I’m sure that my English teacher wasn’t single-handedly responsible for influencing the use of “awesome” and “cool” in this world, I’m fairly certain he influenced users to adapt the term more frequently in our zip code. Had this been two decades later, I’m sure “sweet” would have been outlawed as well.
In banning such a simple word, Mr. Bogdan created an opportunity for his students to think and speak outside our realm of comfort. It’s not that nice is a bad word, it’s that nice doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a compliment. It’s not an insult. It’s just… blah. And it doesn’t tell you anything.
“Why is someone nice? What makes him nice? Don’t tell me she looked “nice” at the party, tell me what she wore. Blegh. Nice.” I recall his big puffy cheeks waving as he shuddered each time he said the dreadful word.
We learned to substitute ”nice” for more descriptive words. We learned to identify what made someone nice, and we found that there were so many words better suited to describe someone or something.
It wasn’t until seventh grade that I learned to place value in considering my word choice as I added details to things I said and wrote. And I realize I still do that today. When I help my kids with homework, I’ll stop them from describing a book character as “cool, super cool and awesome.” I’ll imagine Mr. Bogdan shuddering, once again, at words similar enough with no apparent meaning.
With my kids, I find myself asking Mr. Bogdan’s questions: What makes him super cool? Why is he awesome?
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized how influential Mr. Bogdan’s teachings had become in my life. Mr. Bogdan taught me to think, speak, and write beyond the easy words.
I hope all teachers leave their students with something so important.
© 2015, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.