Every calling has its challenges. In all my years working in higher education, I’ve generally loved working with college students of all kind. It’s why I’m in higher ed, after all.
Some students are easy to work with. Others, however, well, they’re a bit more of a challenge. Some students simply wear me out. They require an extra dose of my time my patience, and my creativity. Conversations with challenging students can drain me. Those are the days I feel like I’ve put in a full day of work before 9 am. I’ve had several of those days lately.
My friends tell me that in their varied professions, they encounter the same thing. There will be some people you love to work with and others who you’re glad to see pass out of your work life.
When I was a young faculty member, I learned how to approach challenging students by reminding myself of several things.
Each person is a child of God, no more or less than I am. A student who doesn’t understand instructions, asks the same questions repeatedly, disrupts the learning of other students, or doesn’t meet the course expectations is still someone God wants a relationship with. I should treat each student with love and compassion, even when my own human frailties make me feel snarly.
Each person carries struggles that are invisible to me. For some students, simply arriving on campus and showing up to class or an appointment is a major accomplishment. I’ve worked with students who carry huge burdens in their real lives, with responsibilities, fears, and struggles that I will never see. The fact that they show up at all is worth celebrating. These struggles can weigh them down. By the time I see them at 10 am, they’ve already felt beaten down by the challenges of the day. I need to respect that I see only one portion of all each student carries.
I may be the only one who is kind to this person today. I have been told by co-workers that I am patient with students and that I am sometimes too compassionate. I am the sympathetic ear and the soft place to land. When it gets to the point that I am frustrated by a student, it means that there are plenty of others who reached that point long ago. When a student is difficult to everyone around, chances are pretty high that no one has been able to be kind to the student that day. I may be the only positive interaction experienced that day.
God may be using me to reach this person. Kindness and compassion, time after time, can wear down a student’s walls and surliness. Several students on my campus have gotten real only with me. That is a great trust and a humbling responsibility. I may be the only example of God’s love in that student’s life.
It isn’t always easy, but I’ve gotten pretty good at thinking through these reminders every time I face a challenging situation with a student. This morning, I looked a student in the eye, reminded myself that she is a child of God, and felt my heart soften for her as I tried to ease her frustration.
Even when it hasn’t been easy, I’ve been able to put these reminders into action in my professional life, time after time. I’ve learned to extend some grace. These are good reminders for all of us as we deal with the various people we encounter in our daily lives.
I spent a lot of years not giving my own husband as much as I gave my students. When our relationship was a challenge or we faced a difficult day, I neglected to give as much grace to the man who should be receiving the best from me.
Instead, I gave my husband my worst.
As I felt my heart soften for my student today, I heard God ask me, “Are you doing as much for your husband?” My husband is fasting for me today. He does not do well without his food, yet he does it because of his love and care for me. Going without food makes him just a bit grumpish.
I need to remember:
- My husband is a child of God, no more or less than I am.
- As well as I know him, my husband carries struggles that are invisible to me.
- I may be the only person who is kind to him today.
- God may be using me to reach my husband.
I can extend love and compassion to a student who is part of my life for only a brief time. How much more important is it to do as much for the man God placed in my life to be my husband?