Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior? You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.
Some students are just harder to love than others. It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more. So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur. Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence. The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.
Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp. I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be. That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state. High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.
Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some. As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior. Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know. At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year. A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week. Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.
That last one perhaps struck me the most.
I had verbally wrestled with this student day after day, answering question after question and often feeling as though no ground was being made. Every time I felt we arrived at a point where he had to concede or should “see the light,” he would drop the argument and just say, “Fine.” Or, “Whatever. You’re the teacher.” While I knew something was happening interiorly, I often couldn’t ascertain exactly what was happening. These questions were rooted in good desires which is why I followed them down the meandering paths, losing too many minutes and too many attention spans for it to be a truly productive use of class time. Yet, as I’ve said before, a genuine pursuit of truth is too rare and too easily extinguished to shove it aside when it reveals itself.
In my vocation of teaching, the Lord mercifully grants me moments of seeing the fruit of my labor. It isn’t often, but it refreshes my soul, granting new invigoration and a desire to delve again into the world of teenagers. I often assume I don’t need words of affirmation, yet I do. Sincere words of appreciation from administrators and co-workers re-instills in me the belief that the Lord can do this work through me. Parents who send notes of appreciation enable me to see how the words and truths in the classroom change the home, too.
Yet most of all, the affirmation of students reminds me that the Lord can write straight with crooked lines. I spend day after day with these students listening to criticisms and critiques about everything under the sun. I know how hard it is to win their appreciation or their admiration. So when I do, and they tell me, I find new hope. Hope for my soul and my mission as well as hope for their souls and their lives.
Compliments when in fear of a detention is one thing, but compliments simply because they appreciate you is an entirely different thing. It is an incredible gift to know that somehow in some way, God is using my feeble attempts to draw souls to Himself. That reality (followed by the gift of a summer break!) is one of the greatest blessings as a teacher. And when I hear their gratitude, I find in turn that I am grateful for the gift they are to me and the gift that teaching is for my heart.