How Do You Love Even Your Most Difficult Students?

During class, an interesting question came up: How do you love even your most difficult students? On the board, we brainstormed a list of practical steps. However, the one that wouldn’t leave my mind was “It’s your job. You get paid to love them.”

It’s logical, I suppose. Not everyone can get along all the time. The world isn’t all hunky dory. There are people we all meet that we just do not like immediately. We all have someone who dances on our last nerve, whose personality clashes so strongly against our own.

That I completely understand. That is natural, reasonable, and normal.

What I can’t overlook is the fact that most people who are going into teaching desire to make a positive impact in the lives of students. We want to be somebody’s champion. We want to be the teacher who smiles at the child no one else seems to notice. We want to provide hope. We want to do all these things, but we can do none of them without authentic love.

In my mind, we don’t just get paid to love them. We choose to love them.

There will always be a student who acts out in class, rebels against classwork, or just simply rubs you the wrong way. A teacher never knows the whole truth of a student’s life. There is so much going on behind closed doors that can be impossible to anticipate.

My professor told a story in class about a student who never turned in homework assignments and slept through the majority of her class period. After some amount of pestering, he finally got irritated enough to ask her “Do you want to know why I’m so tired all of the time?” His answer to this question was nothing like she had expected. He told her that at home, his parents screamed and fought all night. This young boy stayed up almost all night, cupping his hands over the ears of his younger brother so that he could get at least a little sleep.

She had no idea. We don’t know, and most of the time, we probably won’t find out. We never know the whole truth, and we have a tendency to jump to conclusions. Most of these conclusions begin with self-righteous outrage. We can see it as a personal attack against ourselves and our teaching.

This student was not attacking her as a person. He was simply trying to make it through the day. This student, and countless others that we will have in our classrooms, deserves patience and understanding. He deserves love.

The thing is, most students who are difficult in the classroom have something else going on their personal lives. I never ever want to assume that a student is acting out to act out and be wrong.

What most of also us fail to realize is that we annoy someone else. That’s right. I am nauseating to someone else. I am hard to stomach. I’m annoying, frustrating, and hard to work with. Some quality in me really grinds someone else’s gears. There is someone out there who does not like me. It’s the truth.

I don’t want this person to show his or her disdain for me, especially if it’s something I can’t always control. I want this person to get past the qualities that rub them wrong. I want them to find at least one thing in me that makes me worth their time. I want them to show me grace.

I know that sometimes, I will come face to face with an incredibly difficult student. If I’m honest, I’ll probably respond first with anger. I must choose to love. The path to loving others is not always easy. In fact, it can be some of the hardest decisions we can make. And it is just that: a choice. We have to actively decide to love. We must choose to put ourselves second, and do what is sometimes difficult. Even if I don’t feel like it, I must fill my actions with love. And yes, sometimes my actions might come before the feelings. If I choose to smile, if I choose to ask, love will flow from there.

Choosing to love is the first step in a beautiful process. From there our students must be able to see our love from the actions that flow from it.

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5 responses to “How Do You Love Even Your Most Difficult Students?

  1. I really liked your comment about hoping people find at least one thing about you that they like, although I doubt there is a person out there who doesn’t like you. Anyway, that is something that I have been working on a lot this year, especially with my residents. Even if one of them has a personality that doesn’t mesh well with mine, I try to find reasons to not hate them, even when they give me every reason to. Disliking people is super tiring and as a teacher, we can’t afford to be that tired all the time. It is so much easier and less stressful to look for the good in things instead of focusing on the bad.

  2. This was fantastic Nicky! It is a very inspiring piece of writing. I agree with you that we must make a choice to love our students. I read a quote the other day in Katherine Sokolowski’s blog that ties in with this well: “Not one rule you make this week will cause good behavior in May. But every strong relationship you make will.” Strong relationships can do so much in a classroom. Kelsey Empfield just told us how relationships are helping in her real life class. She also said we can find good things in everyone, even the ‘bad’ kids.

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