Trust a troublemaker
How seeing students with new eyes changed my classroom
By Tom Rowley
Children are often treated according to how they are perceived, instead of according to who they are. I found this to be the case when I was teaching a class of 4th graders.
While I perceived the studious children to be well-behaved, disciplined and motivated, and viewed the athletic students as competitive and driven, there were also children who seemed to always be doing the wrong thing or making a poor choice.
I often looked at these students as the “troublemakers.” As a result, I expected them to cause problems in my class, and in the interest of an organized classroom, I planned in advance the consequence for their misbehavior, which almost always happened, as expected.
It was a vicious circle that had a negative impact on my classroom. Not only did I look at specific students in a negative way, but the other students also began to label the offenders.
After meeting the spirituality of unity, I heard many talks referencing the fact that we were all created by God and are all sons and daughters of God. I also heard about how Jesus lived in the heart of every individual I met. It was like lightning that struck my mind and heart. This thought was transformative.
With the awareness and belief in the message of the Gospel, I returned to my classroom with an entirely different perspective. I came into a room filled with 25 children who carried Jesus within them. The questions that flooded through me were numerous.
“How could I continue to look at any student (and particularly a “troublemaker”) in the same way? How could I look at Jesus in this child and expect Jesus to be a troublemaker? How could I keep treating this individual as the troublemaker?”
All these questions and more came to me, and I knew then that I needed to change my attitude and approach all my students. I had to see each person with a new set of eyes: eyes that saw Jesus, eyes that saw so many new things. In the students who caused trouble, I now saw a person who was suffering, as Jesus did during his passion, and who needed to be loved.
From that time on, I met Jesus in every student, every day. There were no favorites.
Almost immediately, I experienced measurable changes and effects. First, an effect on me and how I prepared to meet the students when they came into the classroom each morning. My greeting changed from the usual, distracted “Good morning” to an enthusiastic song, to welcome each student with joy. I found greater fulfillment in my work.
The second effect was with the students. I do not think they believed what was happening. The troublemaker students were now, in my eyes, the students who most resembled the suffering Christ, who felt abandoned and misunderstood, and who needed to be understood and loved immediately. The relationship changed from adversarial to one of reconciliation and trust.
A third effect was in the overall atmosphere of my classroom. Cooperation and closeness became a way of life, and the overall happiness of the students was evident. When asking any student the question, “What are our goals here?” the response was, “We’re building a family in our classroom.”
Finally, the behavioral referrals, from my class to the front office, became the lowest in the school. Seeing Jesus in my students changed everything. How could I ever look at another student in a negative way again? There is so much more to say, but the words of the Gospel summarize everything. “I assure you, as often as you did it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me” (Mt 25:40).
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