Monica Greenwood shares today’s post for our new series Teaching Tips. See Monica’s other work for ESN here, including her Dear (No Longer) New Graduate Student, great reading for the end of the spring semester.
Every Monday morning, my work week begins the way I always dreamed it would, with chalk hitting the chalk board as I pace in front of thirty something young minds who were befuddled by the reading assignment I gave them over the weekend. Teaching at the university level is not only my dream job; it is also my real life job! I love nearly every second of the process of helping form young men and women who will one day impact the world for the better in ways I can’t even foresee. I love the hope that infuses a classroom where I have learned to be confident that Jesus is pursuing students and where I trust Him to use me to help them seek truth.
But the seconds I don’t love are the ones that involve the stickier sides of teaching: learning how to love the less than easy students, the students who plagiarize, the students who lack resilience and fight grades, the students who for one reason or another detract from the classroom environment of warmth and intellectual challenge that I do my best to foster. In that process, I’ve learned a few things which I wish I would have known as a new teacher.
1) Your attitude towards your troubling student should arise from the realization that you are your problem student in Jesus’s classroom. I was walking home disgruntled from work one day muttering to myself about a student who I could not connect with no matter how hard I tried. I had extended grace repeatedly through late assignments, borne with disrespect, and received e-mails from the student blaming me for their poor performance. I generally had every human reason to feel sorry for myself as a teacher. And that’s when Jesus nudged me to see the situation from his perspective. In viewing the student from my own perspective, that troubling student fell short and somehow deserved my disapproval because of it. But Jesus reminded me, that in His classroom, in the living of life, I am the student who is falling short, the student who repeatedly shows Him disrespect and ignores His instructions, the student who shows less than half-hearted effort. And yet Jesus loves me as enthusiastically as the father does at the prodigal son’s return (Luke 15:11-32). I am loved not because of my efforts but because of Christ’s sacrifice. When I see myself as Jesus sees me, the daughter who is deeply loved because He died for me, I have no more excuses for frustration. I am the troubling student who Jesus loves and He calls me to model His unconditional love to each of my students.
2) Deep, fierce love, the kind of love Christ gives me, involves overwhelming grace and carefully communicated truth. When I became a teacher, I began by wanting to show deep care for each of my students, the kind of care that I had only experienced from exceptional professors during my undergraduate career. At first, I thought that showing them love meant bearing with them by excusing them from the consequences of their choices or being excessively kind when giving critical feedback. But one of my mentor teachers reminded me at a crucial moment that excusing my students from the consequences of their choices as students was perhaps the least loving thing I could do for them. If I accept papers months past the due date or turn a blind eye to plagiarism or cheating, I am teaching my students that when they intentionally fail to complete their responsibilities, there are no consequences to their choices. Of course, life outside academia will not proceed this way for them! If I fail to love my students with both truth and grace, I am failing to prepare them to live rich lives as responsible adults. Of course, grace pervades the truth Jesus loves me with, as it should with the love I show my students. As with the student who showed me continual disrespect, Jesus calls me to show deep and inexhaustible patience with my students. But this patience is not in conflict with or a substitution for loving them with truth.
I pray these principles will be of encouragement to you as you process the less than glamorous sides of our profession. As we Emerging Scholars strive to become better mentors and teachers, let’s give thanks that we serve a God who has given us students to love in both their best and worst moments as human beings, just as He loves us.
Image courtesy of msandersmusic at Pixabay.com
Monica Greenwood (pseudonym) waited impatiently for three years for the day she walked into her first graduate seminar in philosophy. Before that momentous day, she was an undergrad upperclassman studying philosophy at a state school known for its agriculture program. Today, she writes, studies, teaches, and her passion remains the same: the education of undergraduates, specifically underclassmen, in introductory philosophy courses.