“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:17-18,21).”
This Saturday morning I feel as if I have been hit by a truck — a big one. My brain is fizzled, my body is fatigued and my emotions are as if they just went through one of those ringers in the old washing machines.
It’s been a rough week, especially at work. Things have not gone well.
A little background is necessary. I teach English to international students at a major university. It’s really important that the students feel comfortable in the classroom, otherwise they won’t learn the language.
Thus, the chemistry must be right among the students and teachers. However, with my classes this week it is as if my chemistry experiment blew up in the lab.
Yesterday I received the following Email from my boss: “I have had a lot of students complaining about your classes, so I’d like it if you could come and talk to me about the specific complaints.”
Now, I obviously wasn’t a happy camper, for the reasons stated above. In addition, as I had only been teaching for two days, I felt hurt and misunderstood. How could anyone judge my performance in two days?
During the afternoon I stewed about this matter. I tried to see my boss, but couldn’t because she was busy.
I needed to vent. We were preparing to go into long holiday weekend, and I wasn’t about to have this hanging in my brain for three days.
Since I couldn’t see my boss, I did what I do best: I began to write. I wrote her a long Email in reply.
I expressed my frustration. I mentioned how unfair this was. I discussed my thoughts on particular students.
Finally, in the quiet of the late afternoon my boss came walking into the computer lab. I told her I was writing her an Email.
She invited me to talk. She went to get a cup of coffee and we sat down in her office.
In essence, my boss told me that my students were uncomfortable in my class. Now, this wasn’t good news for me, not only personally, but also because I knew that the term would be a disaster if the dynamics in the classroom weren’r right.
I knew instinctively what the problem was, and I said (to paraphrase) to my boss,”Let me guess: I intimidate them”. “Yes”, was her reply.
I had heard this before. As both of us (i.e., my boss and I) know, I am a curmudgeon. I joked with my boss. I told her,”I am an acquired taste.”
All joking aside, I still was a bit frustrated with this. What was I supposed to do? If the main problem was “me”, and not my methodology or process, or too much homework or something, I thought I had better start updating my resume.
My first inclination, which I guess is normal, was to blame my students. I thought how immature they were. But then, I realized that it is quite difficult to approach someone you don’t even know and tell them,”You make me uncomfortable” or “you intimidate me”.
I also interpreted things through my personal grid. In my view, men are wimpy today. Since a couple of the complainers were guys, I mused that my estimation of today’s young male had been confirmed.
Further discussion with my boss helped to clear my head on this entire matter. My previous Email (which never got sent, by the way- a smart move. I told my boss that I wish I had a nickel for every vent Email I had put in drafts of trash) also unmuddled my brain.
Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, was correct when he wrote that “thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and across the fingertips.” I now know that I have to at least make an effort to be what my boss termed “more warm and fuzzy”.
My vent Email w0uld have been completely off target. I would have come across as a fool. Even though Eliphaz’s opinion was wrongly placed when he said, “Would a wise person answer with empty notions or fill their belly with the hot east wind?” (Job 15:2) since he applied it to the innocent Job, he could have said it to me with impunity.
Sometimes we are falsely accused. Even Jesus was. Yet, He didn’t reply to his critics because He knew the truth about Himself (Mark 15:1-5).
The mature person is comfortable in his own skin. I know I look like a curmudgeon, and sometimes act the part. But I also know that I have many good relationships with students.
Every new term I must prove myself all over again. My students are in many cases young and immature and need to be trained. It’s my job to do it.
The early church leaders knew this about their charges as well. When some of them had a disagreement on how to best approach mingling the old Jewish religion with the new faith in Christ, the main factor considered was the welfare of the new believers.
These leaders didn’t want to burden them, so they wrote them a letter telling then not to be troubled and lightening their load. The result is documented in the book of Acts: ” The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message (Acts 15:31).”
Sure, maybe my students need to grow up some. But even at my age, so do I.
As their leader I should set an example by helping them to become comfortable in my presence, and showing them warm affection. It’s my goal for them to walk out of my classroom from now with the warm fuzzies.