It is easy for teachers and administrators to focus on the task of teaching outcomes (assessment and evaluation) and not on the students themselves. The problem is that it is difficult to think about a classroom full of students as 25 discrete people with radically diverse learning styles and personal needs. It is much easier to see them as one or maybe two categories. Classrooms are full of more than just “students” who are there for academic instruction. They are full of students who are going through a multitude of different things. Some students are struggling with a rough family life. Some are worrying about a dying relative, and others may be going through bouts of crushing doubt. We must realize that there is more to a student that what is on the surface.
One of the first things that educators must do is understand their students on a more intimate level. I am so often blindsided by the façade that students put on in front of me. If I am not careful I can find myself making judgments about a student which are based solely on their poor academic performance. Sometimes I will find out later that the student was going through a major crisis that explains the reason that they were struggling academically. What often happens is the students are ashamed or embarrassed about their situation and are nervous about sharing the situation. Educators need to understand that academics are about more than just teaching.
I know that as a Christian teacher God has given me a unique opportunity to speak into the lives of my students. I know that I have answers that are not available to students in the public arena. I also know that I am uniquely placed as an authority in student lives, and I have access that many people do not have. I must think of my students holistically. They are a whole souls who need to be nurtured holistically in the classroom.
Quite some time ago I had a student who was a burr under my saddle. This student was confident that they knew everything about the world, and they had it by the tail. She was skeptical about the whole Christian intellectual project, and was more than happy to spend class time doing all that she could undercutting the project to all of the other students. I can still see her grinning when she thought she had asked a question that was a difficult one for me to answer. I would often time leave a somewhat arduous session with this student very angry and frustrated. What I just assumed that she was trying to undercut me as a teacher, and attempting to make my life as difficult as possible. This somewhat adversarial relationship went on for a little over a year with this person.
A few years later, after I had lost contact with her she was found dead. I received a call one morning from a mutual friend saying that she had taken her own life. There was (as far as I know) no note. There was no explanation as to why this had happened. She had been talking to a friend just before she ended her life. Neither her friends nor her family saw any signs of despondency in her before she took her life. I do know she was not living a life that was in close communion with God.
After I hung up the phone I was overwhelmed with memories of her. I remembered the adversarial moments, and I wished I would have at times responded differently to this person. I wish I would have understood her more holistically. I am not saying that I could have changed anything, but I do wish I would have shown them more patience and God”s love. This is something I am now very conscious of in my daily interaction with my students.
I am a huge proponent of good grounded educational theory, but that is not all there is to educating humans. All of the educational knowledge and theory in the world does not replace a hug or a caring word. Educators must follow the words of the apostle Paul when he says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I want educators who are more than articulate well trained practitioners. I want educators who see students as God seems them with compassion, mercy and love.