I couldn’t help but laugh at this image I found floating around on the internet…because as a teacher, I feel like this sometimes!
You start out the day with great intentions, but it doesn’t take long before you start getting short with your students. Maybe you didn’t get much sleep last night, maybe you are dealing with some outside circumstances or stresses, maybe the day’s schedule got changed and the kids are just going crazy . But whatever is going on, it’s not a good day. By the time that last bell rings, you have been impatient with many of your students and even called some of them out unkindly.
What is up with that? I mean, you love them, right (you may not feel like you love them right now, but you know that you ultimately do!)? So why do these words fly out of your mouth? Some teachers are notorious for yelling at their kids, but sometimes our unkind speech can be more subtle – a little one-liner here, speaking harshly in a moment of discipline, an impatient response, calling them out in front of the whole class, and other similar words of unkindness.
Words that put them down in front of their friends.
Words that embarrass them.
Words that hurt them.
Words that don’t look anything like Christ.
As Christians, the way that we speak to our students should look very different from the unsaved teacher down the hallway.
When we find ourselves struggling in our speech towards our students, we first need to see where these words are coming from…and I’ll give you a hint – it really doesn’t have anything to do with our students!
The Bible clearly tells us that our words come from our heart – every word we say is indicative of what is in our hearts. Our tongue can often be the “check engine light” – yes, those words coming out aren’t good, but they are signaling a much deeper problem. Our students merely help us to see what is in our hearts.
“…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
But there is hope! See, if the problems with our speech stem from what others (namely, our students) are doing to us, we don’t have much hope of fixing it. We are giving up and admitting that others have the ability to make us sin. If our students are having a good day, we’ll have a good day! If they are having a bad day, we are forced to also have a bad day. However, if the problem is with my own heart, Christ has the answer for that!
He died so that I would not have be enslaved to my selfish and impatient heart. He has set me free from its control! Now, He lives inside of me and is working to produce His character in my life.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)
Words that look like Christ come from a heart that seeks Christ- a heart that desires to please Him and point others towards Him more than it wants its own desires. I can’t just put on loving, patient, and gentle speech…I first have to deal with the heart that is producing the unkind and impatient words.
I need to search my heart and see what it is that I want more than obeying God’s command to love others with my words. I need to confess it to Him and ask for His help. If I lose my temper or say something unkind to a student, I need to have the humility to call them aside later and apologize (and no excuses – “Well, I should not have said that, but if you wouldn’t have…”). We can be tempted to think that this will make our students lose their respect for us – but have you ever had an authority in your life apologize to you? Chances are that increased your respect for them, not lowered it!
Once I have dealt with my heart, I can begin to replace that old speech with words that look like Christ, and of course, Christ has the answer yet again!
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29)
Instead of using words that can tear down our students, let’s look for ways to speak grace to them, to build them up and encourage them. I have been challenged to be more proactive in doing this by really focusing in on 1-2 students a day and going out of my way to deliberately and specifically build them up with my words – look for the little things to praise them for, encourage them when I see them struggling with something, point their eyes towards Christ. Of course, I want to have this spirit with my whole class, but I think that zoning in on a few students at a time will help me focus on specific encouragement instead of just general praise.
Also, be warned that if you are determined to please Christ in this area, your flesh is really going to fight you. I sat down on Tuesday to begin drafting this post after hearing a wonderful sermon on it. I was excited about using my speech to really minister grace to my students…and then my flesh began to kick and scream. It decided that it was not going to go down so easily. The very next day (and the rest of this week!) I struggled so much with being patient with my students. I wanted to blame it on the fact that they were just not listening to me…but that wasn’t the reason. The reason was because I have an impatient heart – I want what I want when I want it. My students were getting in the way of what I wanted (quickly getting through our research paper writing unit!) and so my impatient heart just bubbled right up and out my mouth. I failed multiple times and had to ask their forgiveness the next day. And Satan would love to keep us down and defeated at this point…but the Lord reminded me of Prov. 24:16A
For the righteous falls seven times and rises again…
It is not that a righteous person never falls. They fall, but by the grace of God, they get back up and try again. And again. And again…and they seek God’s help every time, knowing that they will continue to fall when they are depending on their own strength.
May God help us all to speak grace to our students!