Teaching Tough Students

We all have those students.

The ones who know exactly which of our buttons to push and seem to take great delight in pushing them!

The ones who moan and groan over every request we make of them.

The ones who stir up trouble among their classmates.

The ones who just never seem to obey.

And if you are like me, my patience can begin to wear thin.

The year goes on, and I get tired of dealing with the same issues again and again. Why can’t they just learn their lesson?

While dealing with a group of particularly difficult students one year, I was struck with the story of another person who had to lead a pretty tough group.  His name was Moses, and he had the opportunity to lead the people of Israel through the wilderness after being freed from slavery. Now, you need to know some things about this group of people…

They complained (A LOT).

They didn’t listen (A LOT).

They didn’t obey (A LOT).

They just couldn’t seem to learn their lesson (A LOT).

Sound like anyone you might know?  😉

Poor Moses. What a group! After seeing God provide for them again and again, the Israelites were again complaining because they were thirsty. They  were personally attacking Moses – why have you brought us out here to die? (sounds like my students in Math class!). So Moses went before the Lord with their complaint. God instructed him to speak to a rock and water would come out for the people.  So armed with the promise of God, Moses went before the Israelites at the rock…and directly disobeyed God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he took his staff and struck it. Water still came out despite his disobedience. The Israelites were happy…but God was not. What’s up?

Moses was frustrated with leading this rebellious people. He grew angry and lashed out. He got results, but he went about it completely in the wrong way.

I do the same thing. Many times I feel like I am figuratively “striking the rock” with my difficult students. I get frustrated. I grow impatient and angry. I let unkind  and harsh words fly out. And you know what? Sometimes there may be results. That tough student may shape up…but I have dishonored God in the process.

You know what is interesting? When God spoke with Moses about his sin, he didn’t specifically mention his anger. Anger wasn’t the problem – it was simply a symptom of something going on in Moses’ heart.

And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12)

God got right to the root – Moses was angry because he didn’t believe God.

I realized that my problem with these difficult students was not my impatience and anger. My real problem was that I wasn’t believing God.

  • That He was the one who had placed these students in my life (Rom. 8:28-29)
  • That He would give me the grace and patience to lead them (I Thess. 5:24)
  • That He is the one who could change their hearts…not me (Jer. 24:7, Ps. 51:10).
  • That He is enough for me…no matter what kind of students, the kind of day, or the kind of school year that I may be facing (Ps. 16:11).

When I don’t believe God’s promises and react wrongly to my difficult students, I have not glorified Him. I have not shown them the greatness of their God. I haven’t shown them a glimpse of His character. Even if they shape up and became a model student, if I have not showed God to them, I have failed. After all, the sole purpose of our life (which certainly includes our teaching, discipline, etc.) is to glorify God.

In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestinedaccording to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:11-12).

 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).

Moses failed to believe God, and as a result, God was not glorified among His people. I don’t want to make the same mistake in my teaching!

So how can we make sure we aren’t “striking the rock” as Moses did?

  1. Stay in a close relationship with the Lord – stay in His Word and spend time in prayer. We can’t show our students someone that we don’t know very well.
  2. Memorize & meditate on God’s Promises – this goes along with #1. It’s hard to believe and depend on the promises of someone that we don’t know. What promises do you have trouble believing about God and His working in your life? Commit them to memory – write them on index cards and stick them around your home and classroom. When you are tempted to doubt, preach those verses right back to yourself.
  3. Remember God’s work in your own heart – how many times have I repeatedly disobeyed God? Over and over again in His Word, He tells me what to do. Over and over again, I choose to do my own thing and suffer the consequences. I repent and turn back to Him…and do it all over again. I’m a pretty slow learner. I’m not too different from my difficult students! Yet God has shown me such amazing love and grace! How can I not let that same love and grace spill over to my difficult students?

How about you? What characteristics or promises of God help you in dealing with challenging students?

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  1. Thank you…this could not have come to me at a better time. I too struggle with that group of students, however reading this opened my eyes!!

    1. Jennie, just prayed that God would give you grace as you work with these students! Keep showing them the love of Christ!

  2. I have probably been one of those challenging students in the past. Hopefully I’m not one of those anymore. However, I see the teachers perspective on these students and the challenges it brings to teachers. Very eye opening, good post, even though I am not a teacher. 🙂