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Loving the Unlovable

There is a student I sometimes interact with as a substitute–I will call him Monty. The first time I met him, he was disrespectful. He made jokes toward me, referred to me flippant, and was persistently off-task and disruptive.

Because my identity comes not from how I am treated by others, but from how God views me in Christ, I can respect people like Monty even when they disrespect me. Even though my gut wanted to roughly rebuke him, Christ’s love allowed me to take an interest in him, to genuinely serve his interests.

The second time I encountered Monty, I was teaching his least favorite class (Math), and I was doing it during his least favorite period (last hour). As soon as directions were given, Monty zoomed out of his seat and nearly ran into someone. I pulled Monty aside and began to speak with him, but I could get a word in, he said something like, “Here we go, another teacher who hates me.”

“No, Monty, I don’t hate you! Far from it. Do you feel like all the other teachers do hate you?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you think they would hate you?”

“I don’t know. They just hate me.”

“Well, Monty, do you behave in their classes like you just behaved in here, rushing around and nearly running into someone.”

“Yeah, sometimes, I guess. I don’t know. Can I go now?”

“No, Monty, not yet. If you were in my class and you regularly behaved like that, I’d have a hard time liking you, because, to me, you would be the kid who was regularly a wild card. But I don’t think that’s who you really are. Based on the way I see you talk with other students, I can tell you’re smart. Also, I can see that you’re well-liked by your students. I don’t think that comes from being a hateworthy person.”

“Okay, can I go now? I’m having a bad day, and I’m really pissed off.”

“Well Monty, I know you can change your image with your teachers. I encourage you to try it.”

I didn’t get any positive reactions from Monty that day–on the contrary, I seemed only to be a nuisance to him. But, again, since my identity comes not from how valuable Monty views me as, but instead as how valuable God sees me as now that I am part of Christ’s body, I can take belittlement.

As I learned more about Monty through several other meetings with him, I began to pray for him. Whenever I saw him in the hallway, I would ask how his day was going. He’d be honest–“Not that great, not that bad”–and I’d be honest, too.

Today, I got the chance to teach Monty again. Contrary to what he was used to, I didn’t strong-arm him. I didn’t try to subdue him at the slightest hint of misbehavior. Instead, I tried to communicate his value: Asking him if he needed help on the assignment (instead of implying that he was goofing off); expressing genuine concern when he said he would be leaving the school after next week, shaking his hand and saying, “Take care.”

At the end of the class, God pierced the dark clouds over Monty’s life right now with light. He was the last one out, and, before he left, he shook my hand and said, “Have a good day.”

In Mark 4, Jesus tells a parable of a man who night and day scatters seeds. This man doesn’t know how the seeds grow, but they do. That’s what we do as gospel-centered teachers: we scatter seeds, night and day. When we’re not with the students and they pop into our minds, we pray for them. When we’re with them, we express their value as human beings made in God’s image, regardless of how they behave.

God does the rest.

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About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at TeachingtheCore.com. He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

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