In every classroom there is a student who is harder to love than the others; the rougher kid, the sullen kid, the disobedient kid, the one that is always out of step with the rest of the class. This is the teacher’s challenge: Do we consider that this child could be facing challenges that we are not aware of, so we choose to show mercy and grace? Do we leave this child alone in his or her struggles or unhappiness, or do we look for the diamond in the rough? Maybe our gentleness can be the turning point in someone’s life.
You have to “pick your battles” with some students. If you correct them for every mishap, it will make life miserable for you, for them, and for the rest of the class. That is the time to remember that love covers a multitude of faults. (See 1 Peter 4:8.)
There is a parable in the Gospels about a man who had a great debt. The administrator took the list of all that this man owed and cut it in half. He figured that the debtor could pay a portion of the debt, but if he forced him to pay all, the man would get discouraged and walk away without fulfilling any of his obligation. (See Luke 16:1–13.)
This reminds me of students who drop out of school because they get so discouraged, they figure they will never be able to do all that is expected of them.
So, as a teacher, I make a mental list. What are the basics that I should expect of this student? At the top of the list is respect—because when we show mutual respect, we open the door for dialogue on a mature level. Respect is also a form of love and acceptance, and we all thrive on that! This is not the time to worry about messy papers, or the lost pen, or the forgotten book. But it is a time for homing in on the most important basics of the curriculum and helping the student get over a few humps until he can feel confident and enjoy the sweet taste of success in at least a few areas.
The rest of the students always seem to catch on to my tactics, and I get a quiet solidarity from them. No one has ever complained about a double standard, or why I may seem to be a bit laxer on “that kid” or give him or her a bit more attention. It’s good for all of us to lend a hand to someone who is lagging behind, whether within our family or our circle of acquaintances. Life is not about who arrives first at the finish line, but about helping each other so that we all can reach the goal.