I love to teach rejoinders. These short sayings flow naturally and keep conversations going. Students can say them to react naturally in class and to participate in situations in the real world. But I made a mistake with one rejoinder. That mistake was teaching students to say “¡Buena suerte!” (Good luck!). It was not a language mistake but a philosophical mistake because luck is not in our power. Wishing someone good luck may feel good enough, but it gives them nothing but a warm feeling. It imbues no power in the hearer. So I have taught my students say something else, and it is working.

I learned from Bestsy Paskvan, Japanese teacher in Anchorage, Alaska, that mothers in Japan do not wish their children good luck, instead they admonish them to work hard.  This makes so much sense. Luck is not in our power, but hard work is. Counting on luck, or even considering luck as a factor, can turn us into victims, but using our ability to work gives us power.

So I have crossed out the saying “¡Buena suerte!” on my own Rejoinders Posters and replaced it with “¡Trabaja fuerte!” (Work hard!). Now when students have to leave class for a sporting event, we no longer wish them good luck; we admonish them to work hard.

“Work hard!” meshes so well with stoic philosophy. Not the harsh, stiff upper lip stuff that passes for stoicism, but Stoic philosophy from the source. Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (portrayed brilliantly by Richard Harris in the 2000 Oscar-winning movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe) wrote about dealing with apparent defeat:

“I hear you say, ‘How unlucky that this should happen to me!’ Not at all! Say instead, ‘How lucky am I that I am not broken by what has happened and I am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint.”

I do not overtly teach Stoicism in my Spanish classes, nor do I quote the stoic philosophers, but I teach the lessons of Stoicism and some of the students are getting it.

The other day a student needed to leave for a soccer game. As he got up he said in Spanish, “Voy a jugar futbol.” (I am going to play soccer).  After asking him who they were playing against and if it was a home game, his classmates and I all shouted “¡Trabaja fuerte!” (Work hard!).  He responded with a hearty “¡Voy a trabajar fuerte!” (I am going to work hard!) and ran out of class to the cheers of his classmates.

The next day, when the soccer player returned to class, he taught me a lesson. I asked him “¿Cómo fue el partido?” (How was the game?). He said “Bien.” (Good). I then asked him what the score was. He said “Cero a uno. No ganamos.” (Zero to one. We didn’t win.)  As a courtesy reflex, some students and I said “Lo siento” (I’m sorry) and “Qué triste” (How sad), but he interrupted us all and said: “No estoy triste. Yo trabajé fuerte.” (I am not sad. I worked hard.)

This student showed that he had internalized the idea that it is better to not trust in luck, nor to be saddened when things do not turn out the way we want. He showed that he understands that we can lose and still win. His team did not win, but he was bearing the loss nobly, without shame or regret, because he had exercised his power: he had worked hard. He demonstrated understanding of the second half of Aurelius’ lesson:

“The next time you are tempted to complain of your bad luck, remember to apply this maxim: ‘Bad luck borne nobly is good luck.’ “

This small lesson will serve him well dealing with more serious situations in the future.

We do not only teach students about our content areas but also about life, and sometimes we get to see the fruit.


Quotes are from The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by C. Scot Hicks And David V. Hicks., p. 51