“Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24 NLT).
“Miss. Ginter is a hypocrite.” The survey form mocked me in the reflection of a glaring computer screen.
Despite the 140+ positive reflections of my class, I couldn’t shake that one comment: “Miss. Ginter is a hypocrite.”
With just two days of school left for students, my heart sank. I tried so hard for one-hundred-and-eighty days to get one-hundred-and-fifteen sophomores to feel loved, valued, and seen in my class. And yet, one felt I was a hypocrite. That one took me to my knees.
In between watching a film and passing out individual notes, I’d written for every student, I made an effort to make amends with this student. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. In fact, I spent the entire year thinking they liked me and my class. But nevertheless, I wanted an answer to such a harsh critique.
With the courage and confidence I had left, I asked them to chat in the hallway.
Clarity in Conversation
“Is this about your end-of-the-year survey?” they questioned, crossing their arms as if they needed to defend themselves.
“It is,” I spoke calmly. Offering a gentle smile. A peace offering. Anything to make this wrong, I’d supposedly committed, right.
“Well, I said you’re a hypocrite because you told us you didn’t believe in giving us a lot of homework, and yet I had homework often. I’ve been so stressed out because there’s too much work to do,” their anger became visible. A scornful scoul and clenched fists erupted.
After a nearly ten-minute conversation and apology (on my end), I sought to understand and hear them. To know what had upset them to the point that they would call me a “hypocrite.”
The Power of Kindness
I tell this story not for you to think ill of this student, or to feel remorse for me, but to illustrate a point. A point that Proverbs 16:24 illustrates beautifully.
Just a few minutes prior to chatting with this student, I gave them their individual note. Of course, I’d written it prior to reading that they believed I was a hypocrite, so it gleamed how proud I was of them. How dedicated I saw their attendance in Bible Study, how hard they worked, and how kind their constant disposition was. Trust me when I say that placing this note of kindness on their desk felt like pouring salt on an open wound.
But you know what? I would do it all over again.
While I do not feel that I intentionally did this student wrong, nor do I feel they were accurate or honest in calling me a hypocrite, I can honestly say it’s probably a moment in my life that I will never forget.
Do You Care Enough?
Although I often don’t care what other people think of me (in the sense of acknowledging that not everyone will like me, and that’s okay), I do care that the kids I teach see Christ in me (yes, I work in a public school, and yes, I still make it known). In fact, at the beginning and end of every school year, I directly state that I care more about each of them as individuals than I do about them as students in my class. And I genuinely mean that.
Obviously, every teacher wants her students to succeed. If every student in my English class had an “A,” I’m sure the administration would be thrilled. So would I. But beyond academics, the life of a student is a life I have the opportunity to change. And more so, Christ can change them through me.
Many of you reading this post aren’t teachers. But I guarantee that you can relate in some way. Young adults are the next step of a new generation, and you better believe I will do anything I can (through Christ) to make them know that they are loved, chosen, safe, and cared for by Someone who died to know them.
The Reward of Kindness
About an hour after this difficult conversation with the student who called me a hypocrite, I felt better. Although I don’t think their view of me changed, I made it known that I was deeply sorry for hurting them and did indeed care about them and their future. And in a bittersweet turn of events, I received the following note in my inbox from a different student:
“Miss. Ginter, I can truthfully say that I am so glad that I had you as my English teacher this year. In general, you can tell you’re a really good person, trustworthy, kind, and truly the best teacher any student could ask for. To be honest, I’m not really the best Christian; I’m not one at all. I used to be and I’m trying to get back to it. I can thank you for that. From the very beginning of the school year you told us you were a Christian and you can see that. You’re so alive in a way, more than I have seen anyone in a very long time. So I’ve started going to Church. I wanted to say thank you. I will never forget you.”
*This note has been modified to protect the identity and privacy of my students.
I held back tears.
“Thank you, God,” was all that could escape my lips.
It’s been a week since I read those two notes, but my heart still feels the same. I’m blessed and honored to teach the student who called me a hypocrite, and I’m blessed and honored to teach the one who said they’d never forget me. Both are young adults that walked into my classroom nearly a year ago, not knowing what the world would hold, and both are ones I still wish the greatest success as they grow and mature.
If I’ve learned anything in my four years of teaching, it would be this:
Teenagers won’t remember the stunning outfits you poised together every single day.
They will remember the days you came to class sick or you accidentally caught a book on fire and had to tell the principal.
Teenagers won’t remember the regulated assessments you were forced to give to measure high-quality student data or prepare them for the state test.
But they will remember the humor you used in making fun of yourself in preparing them along the way.
Teenagers won’t remember all the grammar, books, or vocabulary words you made them memorize, even as interesting or fun as you tried to make them.
But teenagers will always remember the time you took out of your day to listen to them, whether it was for five seconds or five minutes. They will always remember the laughs you shared, the kindness you offered, and the love you endlessly gave, regardless of if they liked you or your class or not.
And why? Because any kindness, love, or laughter you’ve given them has come from the Source of life, love, and gratitude within you. We’re only able to give what we’ve already been given, so why would we hold back those immeasurable gifts?
There have been times in my years of teaching that I’ve questioned a lot of things. I still want to write full-time, so spending all my energy teaching is exhausting most days. But while I’m in this season, I’m reminded of God and His faithfulness to me:
In the gentle smiles.
In the shared laughs.
In the small talk.
In serious conversations.
And even in the turds.
Especially the turds who like to cause havoc on already challenging days.
Why? Because Christ died for me while I was still a sinner. And that means He died for each of these children too (most of whom probably don’t know Him).
So while I’m teaching, I will die to myself. I will die to the comments that are kind but also the ones that aren’t. Jesus “killed” His enemies with kindness, not out of spite, vengeance, or to grab the upper hand, but so they may someday partake in a relationship with Him. Why shouldn’t I be willing to do the same?
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Metkalova
Amber Ginter is a young adult writer that currently works as an English teacher in Chillicothe, Ohio, and has a passionate desire to impact the world for Jesus through her love for writing, aesthetics, health/fitness, and ministry. Amber seeks to proclaim her love for Christ and the Gospel through her writing, aesthetic worship arts, and volunteer roles. She is enrolled in the YWW Author Conservatory to become a full-time author and is a featured writer for Crosswalk,