Time to listen up!
Core scripture: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12: 15).
Message: Nowhere in a teacher’s job description will you see the words counselor. Let’s face it. You are paid to teach curriculum and broaden learning opportunities. Case closed, right? Well, maybe for some but not for the Christian teacher. You see, the Christian teacher is something different. The Christian teacher cares for his or her students. They counsel when needed, providing much needed support to their students who may not have support elsewhere. That breeds a question … How the heck do we do that? How can we reach out in love to show our students we really care?
It starts with your classroom atmosphere. Do you actually take the time to get to know your students? I love taking two minutes on Monday and two more on Friday to share out about weekends. The timer comes out, and when it beeps, we’re done. But those two minutes are priceless moments of allowing me into the home lives of my students. I find out what is important to them, what makes them tick. Of course it is all voluntary, but the students are ALL required to write about their weekends privately. There are times when a kid will open up to me on paper but not out loud. Like the ones I have received recently.
One gentleman who has been in a mental hospital this year admitted that he hates his life. Another girl vented her frustrations about losing her best friend. Yet another girl took an entire assignment to write about the passing of her best friend, her grandmother, over Christmas Break. And then came the one I read yesterday. All the girl wrote was that she nearly died. Hyperbole? Maybe; however, to that kid it meant everything. I am going to follow up with her today. With each of those comments I take the time to write back to the kids. I know it takes time, but it is worth it. It shows I care. It shows I have a heart. And with that sympathy shown, they open up even more.
That is when the floodgates open. For me it is teenage drama, and don’t you know drama tends to fall under the female category. Yikes! I admit there have been times when presented with drama that I smile and say, “Would you like me to write you a pass to Mrs. Short or Mrs. Smith?” They are our beloved counselors, and they’re trained to get down to the core of these issues. But what if you have the kid who says they’d rather talk to you? I remember when I talked to a counselor once in 7th grade myself, I felt odd. I didn’t even know the guy. Why would I open my heart to someone who doesn’t know me? That is where the Christian teacher comes in.
Paul tells us, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16: 14). We can’t ignore these cries for help. It is essential that compassion for our students trumps grading papers or creating lessons. Are there times when my flesh causes me to roll my eyes when there is a knock at my door? Sure. I’m human. But compassion always wins me over. When my students hurt, I hurt. So I reach out to them in any way possible. Sometimes it is a note. Sometimes it is a pat on the back. Other times it is just checking in on them a day or two later to see if things have changed for the better. All that being said, through my 14 years of teaching, here are some thoughts about dealing with student problems:
- Don’t address a private issue in front of the class. The last thing the kid wants is their problem to be known by all. Do it off to the side. If you need to address it with one eye in and one eye out, door propped open and whispering in the hallway, do it. Issues can likewise be saved until passing period if they are smaller.
- Suggest a song for the kid to listen to. My students LOVE their music, and sometimes music can just help you make sense of live. It soothes the soul and provides meaning to life. If you have a Christian kid, never hesitate to suggest a Christian song.
- Write notes to encourage. I do this on a regular basis. Even from home if a kid is on my mind. Do you have a quick second? Take a sticky note and write a few sentences. I have realized that even saying something like, “I am thinking of you and praying for you” means the world to some kids. A current student that is in OSS for the third time didn’t receive a note. He actually got a five-paragraph letter. All to show somebody cared.
- Teach character to your entire class. Yesterday my character lesson was built on love and forgiveness. Two best friends have been not talking to each other in my 7th hour, and one girl has poured her heart out to me that it is tearing her apart. That lesson was for her although I never said it. All the kids heard, but I hope it convicted her friend.
- Play a Christian song to provide meaning to your class. I tie in themes to novels we read. One of my favorites is Toby Mac’s “Speak Life” or even Hawk Nelson’s “Words.” The alternative flavor suits my students’ like for music, the songs are safe in terms of not being too “Jesusy,” and it always provides good discussion.
- Empathize! Do you have a story from your own life that relates to these students’ problems? Share it. Why not? Take procrastination for example. I love humbling myself and talking about the time I stayed up until 2:00 am in 6th grade with my dad to finish a science project. The kids will laugh, they will relate, and they will realize that although age separates you, you really aren’t that different. It helps connect!
- Follow up. Whether it be in person, through a note, or however you see fit, follow up. I love it when fellow friends follow up with me. It shows they care. It shows they listen. It shows me the love of Christ, who literally spilled out that love for us all on the cross.
Are you going to have kids that give you the stiff arm? Sure. Some will seek help elsewhere. But I tell you what … just like the core scripture above, a wise kid will listen to advice. Be that advice to your students. Show them you care. Jesus went out of His way to model that love for us. When people came to Him, He never told them to save the drama for your momma. He guided them, He changed them, and His stamp was left of their hearts. Forever. You do the same.
Challenge: Get to know your kids’ lives outside of the classroom. Create a welcoming environment that allows students to come to you if they have problems. Whether it be asking them about their weekends, talking to them between classes, or opening your door before and after school for a safe place to rest, utilize those moments to show love to your students and encourage them through their struggles.
Song to bring it home: The song chosen here certainly depends on the situation. What I have found most common in teenage drama through the years is a feeling of inadequacy amongst teens. If you have a kid who is bullied, and they happen to be a believer, tell them to listen to MercyMe’s “Greater.” The positive vibe of the song is sure to flood them with life, and the scripture cited within the lyrics is priceless.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the needy students involved in issues beyond my control. If I can be a vehicle of your love in any way, allow me to reach out to these children. Amen.