I know that as teachers and parents we are supposed to love all of our students and kids, but there are days when demonstrating love to them is downright difficult. You ever have those days when you’re just not in the mood and that child or group of students pushes your buttons to the limits? Does it frustrate you that you see the potential, gifts and talents they possess, but they don’t see it or believe in themselves at all?
One of the mistakes many new and veteran teachers make with their students is leading with the knowledge of their subject matter or area of expertise rather than with a genuine heart to connect with their students and loving them in very tangible ways. There’s an old adage that says, “kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” I have found this to be so true in my own experience as a teacher.
As teachers and home educators we have knowledge to pour into our students that can make a real difference in their lives. However, we will hit a brick wall many times with some of our most ”unlovable” and hard to reach students and children until they know you care. Love is the key to chipping away at those hearts of stone, so that they can receive the knowledge we have to impart into them.
A few years back when I was a teacher in a NYC high school, I had a student who from day one of calling her name in roll didn’t like me. I pronounced her name as it was spelled, but she had a different pronunciation of it and got an attitude with me for not knowing it was pronounced differently. I knew from that day, I had to walk a fine line around her.
All of our interactions from that day forward were tense, but I didn’t know why. I thought maybe it was because I was a male teacher and she had issues with men. Anyway, I couldn’t figure it out and she never told me. I was developing this dislike of this student who had poor attendance and was constantly falling behind in class.
One day, “Miss Unlovable” went over the top and did the unthinkable. I was called briefly into the assistant principal’s office in the middle of class one day. When I came back into the class, my lesson plan binder with all of my lesson plans and grade book was nowhere to be found. I thought the kids were playing a practical joke, but no one said anything. After a while I was too frustrated to deal with the situation so I called in the assistant principal into the room. He told me to wait in his office while he got to the bottom of the situation.
After about 10 minutes, he came back into his office with a stack of papers in his hand. “I have good news and bad news for you, Mr. McCoy. The good news is that we found your lesson plan and grade book. The bad news is that it’s not in the class, but on the top of the roof on the lower portion of the school (the school had 5 floors. We were on the 4th floor). Oh, and no one admitted who it was who threw it out the window.”
I went to a corner of his office where you could see the lower rooftop and there was all my lesson plans and grade book-binder open, but materials still intact. By that time I was fuming mad. I left the assistant principal’s office to collect myself and while I was in the hallway, the bell rang and my students flooded out of the class.
As students were passing by to go to their next class, I had one of my students whisper to me through a muffled voice, “Mister, you didn’t hear this from me, but it was “Miss Unlovable” that threw your stuff out the window!” In the next few minutes, 3 other trustworthy students whispered the same thing to me.
I wanted to go postal up in there (figuratively, not literally). I couldn’t understand how a student could be so cruel and mean-hearted for no apparent reason. Anyway, I went home that night and did a lot of soul searching and praying. I had to go back and teach the next day, face “Miss Unlovable”, and act like I didn’t know she was the person who violated my stuff. I prayed that night for strength to help me not hate this student and to love her genuinely because she was dealing with issues greater than me. I just happen to be the one she chose to project her feelings onto.
The next day class went on as usual like nothing had happened. But for some reason I was more peaceful. I still was not over it, but I was better. I remember I stepped out of the building at lunchtime to grab a sandwich at the local sandwich shop down the block and there she was. She looked like she was in pain and I could tell something was wrong. “Shouldn’t you be in school I asked?” She told me that she wasn’t feeling well and that the school wouldn’t let her call her mom to come get her. Then, she asked me could she have change for the pay phone to call her mom.
“No, she didn’t just ask me for money to call her mom after she threw my book out the window," I thought. “I should turn her in and make her suffer!” “She got some nerve!” You can imagine the inner battle I was having in those few moments before I answered. I asked her if she was telling the truth and when she answered “yes,” I genuinely believed her.”
I made the choice at that moment to demonstrate love and gave her 2 quarters out of my pocket. I asked her if she needed anything else and she said, “No, but thank you mister,” and gave me the first smile I had seen all year.
The next day she was absent from school and when she returned, I asked her if she got a hold of her mom and was feeling better. She said yes and thanked me again.
From that day on, she wasn’t disrespectful, came to class more frequently, and passed the class at the end of the year. We didn’t become the best of friends and she wasn’t overly polite to me, but she came to class and did her work. She even shouted out in the class one day when the class was particularly wound up, “shut up and let the man teach!” I think it shocked the class and myself included so much that we all instantly got quiet.
I don’t know what happened to “Miss Unlovable” after she moved on to 10th grade, but I saw a change after our encounter that lunch hour. There was nothing special about me. It took a choice on my part and God’s strength to demonstrate an act of love in a moment where I could have gotten revenge.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 says, “Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails (-CEV)!”
It’s not always easy to love our students, children, and others, but we can choose to show we care. Then, hopefully our acts of love will help soften their hearts to hear our words of encouragement and motivate them to move on to that next level of growth and success.
Identify that one student(s) that is unlovable and love them to success!
Antoine McCoy is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher as an Exceptional Needs Specialist working with children with mild to moderate disabilities. He has taught children in all grade levels (K-12) in Public and Private Schools (general education, inclusion, and self-contained classes) and worked with homeschoolers.