Speaking Grace to our Students

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!


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The Pursuit of Perfection in Teaching

Do you ever just feel overwhelmed? Like you’re a failure at teaching?

Your class seems crazy, the grading stack seems to multiply faster than you can tame it, your lessons feel like they are falling flat, and you just know that you are not a good teacher.

Then you get on Pinterest and see these wonderful classrooms and amazing teachers and you really feel depressed.

But being overwhelmed has helped me begin to think.

Why do I get so frustrated and overwhelmed? Well, teaching is hard and overwhelming, no question about that! But I often find myself in this slump, simply and honestly, because I want to be the best. I have always had to be the best – have the best projects in the class, be the best student teacher, the best person…and trying to be the best is awfully hard. There are a whole lot of people and circumstances that barge in and mess up my plans for being perfect. And, of course – my own imperfect heart doesn’t help the situation, either! 😉

When my goal is to be the “perfect” teacher, it’s no wonder I am frustrated when I have to do  a  not-so-exciting lesson plan that involves reading the textbook and doing a worksheet.  I thought I was going to be one of those really fun teachers who always had the entire class hanging on her every word and action every minute of every day (I may have watched one too many inspirational teacher movies)! No wonder I am irritated when I have to scold them for misbehavior. No wonder it drives me crazy when I have a fun lesson and it goes off course through students’ disobedience or failure on the assessment. I am confronted with the truth that I am not the best teacher…maybe I’m just an average teacher – or maybe even below average!

And I realize that being the best has become my idol…that is why I get so frustrated and overwhelmed when I face these issues in my class. The idol of perfection is a hard god to worship – you see, it is never satisfied. No matter what you do, you will always feel like you have to do more and be more.

But God does not expect me to be perfect…He knows my sins and my weaknesses, and He loves me anyway. Just as I am saved by grace, I am sustained by grace.  Why would I labor at the altar of perfectionism to a god who will never be satisfied when I have a Savior who is calling to me,

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  Matthew 11:28-29

When I realize that I don’t have to be perfect, my goal can change from being the best teacher to glorifying God…and all of my issues are seen in an entirely new light.

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatsover ye do, do all to the glory of God   I Corinthians 10:31

I can glorify God through whatever I do in the classroom. I can glorify Him through a “boring” textbook/worksheet lesson. I can glorify Him when handling discipline problems and realizing that I perhaps have failed in a certain situation. This is not to say that I should not strive to improve my teaching…all good teachers are always learning and looking for ways to improve!  I am referring to those of us (myself included!) who feel overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations and burdens we place on ourselves to be perfect teachers.


When I am focusing on glorifying God, then my day can not be ruined by a failed lesson, parent complaint, or student discipline issue. My eyes are too busy looking for ways in these circumstances to show my students how great our God is and how much He loves them. After all, as they go throughout their lives, is it more important for my students  to remember me as an incredible 4th grade teacher…or to remember their 4th grade teacher’s great God?

Being the perfect teacher is very subjective, and I will rarely “feel” that I am a great teacher. Honestly, right now, being the best teacher feels a little impossible.

Perfection is impossible.

But glorifying God is possible — under any circumstances.

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I Corinthians 13 for Teachers

If I am an entertaining and articulate teacher, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I have all wisdom in dealing with student and parent issues that arise, and have not love, I am nothing.

If I give  my free time grading, creating exciting lesson plans, and designing stellar bulletin boards; and have not love, I am nothing.

Love is patient

It does not get annoyed with the drumming pencil or the millionth time a student asks, “what page are we on?”

Love is kind

It speaks to students with kindness, even in times of discipline. It looks for little ways throughout the day to show students care.

Love does not envy or boast

It does not “show off” bulletin boards, lesson ideas, etc. to show up other teachers.

Love is not arrogant

It listens respectfully to the opinions of others and is willing to admit that it is wrong. It is even willing to ask forgiveness from students or other faculty when necessary.

Love is not rude

It finds ways to discipline students without belittling or embarrassing them.

Love does not insist on its own way

It does not get out of sorts when its lesson does not go according to plan or when scheduling does not work out in its favor. It does not consider its way the only way to do things.

Love is not irritable or resentful

It gives students a clean slate daily and doesn’t hold grudges. It doesn’t take student behavior personally. Its mood is not dictated by outside circumstances.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth

It looks for the positives in the students instead of focusing in on their weaknesses. It doesn’t feel smug or justified when the student “gets what’s coming to him”. It is heartbroken when a student makes wrong choices, not because those choices affect the day, but because those choices are displeasing to God.

Love bears all things

It sets aside its constant to-do list to really listen to what’s on students’ hearts and minds. It finds time to listen to the looong stories, pray for a pet guinea pig, and counsel the friendship drama at recess. These problems that seem so trivial to most are very real and heavy burdens on our students’ hearts.

Love believes all things

It believes the best about the students.

 Love hopes all things

Even after a rough day, it is still hopeful knowing that it was a day in which God was working His grace and perfect plan.

Love endures all things

It keeps going day in and day out. It doesn’t give up on any child because God never gives up on us .

Love never ends.

If you are like me, I see so many areas that I failed in loving my students today. Can I tell you a secret? There is no way that you or I can daily show that kind of love to our students without God’s grace!  We need God to work in our hearts and give us that spirit of love.

II Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power,  and of love, and of a sound mind.

When I realize that I am not loving my students as I ought to be, I need to look back to the love of God for me. He has loved me despite my sinfulness, and He has offered me grace to love my students in the same unconditional way. It’s all grace!

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