Teaching freshmen can be a hoot. They are a breed all their own and I love them. Freshmen boys especially are a species unlike any other. I love that I still tower over all of them and can easily defeat them in an arm wrestling competition. (not that I've tried- that might be a little weird for everyone) In teaching three freshmen classes this year, I've found there are several truths about freshmen boys that are no longer surprising. For instance...
I am not surprised when their body odor is overpowering and makes me want to vomit a tiny bit. So I keep strong smelling candles burning in my room.
I am not surprised when they avoid talking to girls because they don't know what to say or how to say it. So I pair them up with girls and force them to talk about vocabulary.
I am not surprised when they make inappropriate remarks. So when I overheard one boy mention the word orgasm in class, I didn't freak out, but rather gave him my stern look and ultra stern lecture about inappropriate conversations.
I am not surprised by their obsession with warfare. So I'm not too concerned that they spend the class period fake killing each other from across the room. Although I was a bit worried when one boy sent me an e-mail and signed it, "so and so, killer, war buff (WW1/2), weapons expert. There's a line buddy, and you're dancing dangerously close to it.
Finally, I am not surprised that they lack social awareness. So I only chuckled to myself when a boy repeatedly picked his nose with his pinky finger while making eye contact with me during a lecture. I'm 88 % sure he ate his treasures but at least he was sneaky about this.
However, despite being well-acquainted with this breed of species known as freshmen boys, several of them surprised me this week.
First, one boy came into my room after school to apologize. You have no idea how huge this was. This was a boy who, if I had to pick one student out of all 102 of mine, I would have guessed to be the one most likely to shoot me. Not that it was ever an actual concern, but let's just say that I wouldn't have been totally shocked if he pulled a gun on me during a vocab quiz. I seem to get one of these every few years. They are delights. Sarcasm noted?
A few weeks back, I really embarrassed him in class. I hadn't meant to but he had been a new kind of mean to one of my sweet, dorky girls and I have little tolerance for meanness- especially when it's directed at a sweet, dorky girl. So I stared him down and lectured him in front of the class about how he treats his classmates.
I regretted how I handled myself. I left school that day with a sick feeling in my gut.
But I prayed hard that God would help me love this boy and what do you know, He answered. Still, I walked on egg shells around him, his death glares no less disturbing despite my prayers.
And then he came into my room after school one day and apologized. He apologized for his arrogance and behavior and I wanted to cry.
So I did.
Once he left the room of course.
His apology was very sweet and very surprising.
The next freshmen boy to surprise me did it by praying for me. He asked how my grading was going and I admitted that it was a bit overwhelming because I have so much to do.
To which he replied, "I thought of you the other night at youth group and how much you have to grade. I've been praying for that and will continue to do so."
Cue the jaw drop.
How does one respond to such a sweet surprise?
Tears of course.
My last surprise came while reading journals. The prompt was to write about a person who influenced them simply by how they lived. Two boys wrote about their dads. These two boys both drive me a bit bonkers. They are loud and obnoxious and in constant need of attention and correction.
The previous week they had to write about a truth they discovered about themselves and one of these boys wrote about the time he discovered just how good-looking he is. Yeah. A whole paper about his thick hair and good looks. This was NOT surprising.
But it was more than surprising when that same boy wrote about how his dad has a brain tumor and the other difficult boy wrote about how his dad died in the summer.
Yeah. I know.
I sat at my desk weeping for these boys and the pain they are living with, the pain they are masking so well. No wonder they want attention. I thought of all the times I've been short with them and my heart hurt.
This last surprise was not just about them and the sorrows they hide; it was about myself.
I realized that if I had known about their hurts, I would have been offering them more grace. And I don't think that should be the case. I wish I was the type of teacher who has enough love and patience to shower on all her students- treating them all with the kindness and mercy due to a child living through tragedy.
But I don't.
And that's when I realized how much I've been relying on my own abilities in the classroom. I am a nice person but only to a certain degree. I have a breaking point and my freshmen push me there daily. I have tired days and hungry days and "I'm feeling cranky so stay out of my way" days when my patience is thin and my mercy is thinner.
As a teacher, I'm constantly trying to balance mercy with justice and I often fall flat on my face in the process. I NEED God to show me the balance. I NEED Him to help me love my students better.
As I attempt to "keep in step with the Spirit" and live by His power, I'm slowly discovering the balance of mercy and justice. I see that I have access to the divine ability to love on these hurting children as they need to be loved, but I need to tap into that power- to pray for it daily. I haven't been doing that lately. And it's become more than clear that my abilities alone are glaringly insufficient.
This is what surprised me: I had been relying on my own strength without even realizing it.
Sure, these freshmen boys are in desperate need of discipline and correction and guidance. But they need grace too. And on my own, I'm quite stingy with grace. I save it for the "deserving" which seems pretty ironic, oxymoronic actually since grace is supposed to be for the UN-deserving.
I offer myself plenty of excuses for why I'm not more patient or loving or merciful to my students- to the ones who really get on my nerves and don't seem to deserve my patience or love or mercy. And then I'm reminded that this is exactly what God has done for me- extended His patience, His love, and His mercy to me, me the undeserving.
So maybe I should follow suit. I don't think I'm quite as obnoxious as certain freshmen boys, but I certainly am just as undeserving of my great God's great grace.