The Power of Words

Lisa - FARMINGTON HILLS, Michigan
Entered on March 11, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

This I believe

The Power of Words

As I was helping Cierra with a math problem she blurted out, “My Mama was arrested too many times, so now I live with my Grandmama.” As Cierra’s first grade teacher, I came to know her grandmama as a woman who never greeted Cierra with a smile or a hug only a gruff, “Come On!”

Yet despite the wrath of her Grandmama, Cierra leaned back in her chair, tapped her pencil, talked out of turn, and never did her work. Cierra made herself hard to like.

Until the day she arrived at school wearing her Easter dress….

Cierra was probably under death threats not to get it dirty. I knew that I probably should have reprimanded her for arriving out of uniform, but instead I complimented her, “You look just like a princess.”

“Thank you,” she said in a sweet voice I never heard from her before.

All day she sat, listened, and followed directions. I kept praising her behavior and work. During seatwork she even stood up and announced, “A real princess is good. I am a real princess.” and then twirled back down in her seat. At the end of the day, I informed her grandmama about her great day. A smile cracked her face.

The next day Cierra returned dressed in her usual dingy uniform clothes. But I reminded her she still was a real princess; she was merely in disguise today. It worked. Cierra learned more in two days than she did in months—all because of the magic of one word: princess.