When it comes to “love languages,” I believe quality time is one of the top ones for me to give and receive. Words of affirmation, however, are not very easy for me to give and while I don’t mind/like to receive them, they don’t top the simple gift of spending time with someone.
The exception for this might come with students.
Over the course of teaching, I have had some very grateful students. Students who would thank me daily as they left the classroom or who wrote a nice Christmas card or who simply wrote my name down in their weekly journal under the list of three things they were thankful for that week. Sweet and considerate, some students will even apologize for the bad behavior of other students.
Generally speaking, however, teenagers are not the most grateful human beings. They are prone to complain when school involves schoolwork or when assignments have a due date. Things they cannot change, things that are pretty reasonable, and things that are simply a course of life are all fodder for criticism or complaints. Writing in complete sentences is even viewed as a form of punishment instead of a basic habit of the literate. The longer I teach, the more I am open to their feedback while also aware that essentially never will all students be pleased at the exact same time.
Knowing this, it makes the compliments all the more sweet when they arrive, which is perhaps part of the genius of the teenager. Since my position as a teacher is at times compared to that of a jailer or a dictator, when I hear specific words of gratitude from students, it means far more than they could possibly know. Knowing that 98% of the time I won’t be thanked makes the other 2% really sweet. I don’t think teaching is the only job where it seems like the people you work most closely with are the least grateful, but it is the job with which I have the most experience.
This past week, I received a note from a student who recently graduated. As I read it to my sister, I felt my heart overflowing with profound gratitude. I summarized the last few years of my relationship with this student which culminated in finally having them in class and actually learning more about them as a person. The note from this particular student felt all the more special because I didn’t expect it and I am uncertain they ever would have thanked me in person.
While I don’t often get overly sentimental about my students, I found myself filled with a motherly fondness for the many teenagers who have passed through my classroom. A fondness for the ones who are seeking yet unsatisfied, the ones who make me want to pull my hair out, the ones who are sweetly attentive, the ones who aim to make as few waves as possible, the ones who criticize every other word out of my mouth, and the ones who wonder if the Lord has anything particular to offer them. I appreciate them all, with their varied ways of living and questioning and striving. They push me and stretch me and continue to reveal to me more and more the complexity of humanity and the glory of God.
As I begin to mentally prepare for a new school year, one in particular filled with unusual amounts of uncertainty, I find myself grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the lives of so many teenagers. It is my hope that in the small ways we interact, they are able to know something about the One I follow and express thanks to Him, even if they forget everything I ever explicitly teach them.