What I really wanted to do was call the teenage girl out on her attitude. Yes, I should have prepared better for class by having the questions printed out for them instead of having them write them out. At this point, however, it was the end of the day and I didn’t feel like trying to convince my students why school required them to do schoolwork.
Instead of writing down the questions, this young lady was resistant. Her face was one of annoyance that she would have to write down questions.
“Do we have to write these all down?”
“Well, I think you would want to. You need to answer these questions over the movie we are going to watch and you won’t be able to see the questions when I pull the projector down.”
“So we don’t have to?”
“I guess not if you think you can remember all the questions and answers.”
“Cool. I’m not doing it then.”
I was frustrated that something so little was seen as such a heavy burden. She wasn’t the only one who was put out by this task. As the students wrote down the questions, they would take time to heave a sigh or breathe deeply.
“I hear your sighs.” I told them as I waited for them to finish copying the questions.
So while others were not enjoying the task at hand, this girl was the most vocal about it. She has her days. Some days she is bubbly and excited, calling me “girl” and sharing different stories. Other days she has a bit of an attitude and looks unimpressed by nearly everything. I was trying to decide how to handle her responses to me in the classroom. Should I take her aside? Should I give her a look? How should I respond?
In the midst of my frustration, I remembered a personal detail she had written on an assignment at the beginning of the semester. She wrote briefly of a family life difficulty and in that moment of her less-than-desired responses, I thought of it. And I prayed for her. I ask Our Lady to give me the patience to deal with this young girl who was struggling with things that I didn’t know or understand. In a moment of clarity, I recognized her responses as being, at least in part, the fruit of inner turmoil and pain. She was hurting and something she felt she had control over was complaining about a simple task in class.
I wish I could say that I have applied this merciful attitude toward all of my students all of the time. I haven’t. But it did make me stop and consider: why don’t I extend to those I meet the same mercy I would desire others to extend to me? Of course, we all need to grow in not letting our emotions overrun us. We strive to not take frustrations out on people who are completely removed from the situation. But I know I have been unkind many times and what has brought me out of that rut before has been people looking beyond my ugly words or actions and treating me with kindness.
This brief interaction made me want to extend mercy, without being a doormat for my students. Not everything in their responses is about my teaching or what they think of me. Perhaps they just had a difficult test or a fight the night before with their parents. It doesn’t make what they have said or done acceptable, but it can make them more real to me, people with hearts and problems, struggling to navigate the difficulties of life.
It was once again impressed upon me the need to pray. I do not enter the classroom alone to fight in a fierce battle against teenagers. Those would be rather bleak prospects. Rather I go to them (hopefully) as a missionary and I go armed with the best of warriors–the universal Church. Particularly during this year of mercy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could encounter my students and everyone I meet as a missionary of mercy? How beautiful would it be if through an encounter with us, people could know that attribute of God in a deeper, fuller way?