The Whiteboard

Measuring Success: Why It Doesn't Matter if My Students Like Me

It was the first day of my first year of teaching, and I was filled to the brim with optimism and energy. As a teacher in a mid-sized Christian school, I didn’t want to just teach my students, I wanted to disciple them and build lifelong connections. I was determined to sow seeds of God’s love into the hearts of every single student I had in my classroom. 

Fast forward a few weeks into the school year: a colleague of mine became very sick, so I was asked to cover her class for an undetermined amount of time. This class had many “challenging” students. Their behavior seemed to worsen each day. One student swore at me, and another called me names. This class forced me to use office referrals. I never had wanted to use them to maintain class control. My goal was to use rapport and positive reinforcement to gently nurture my students. Yet there I was with an office referral in my hand. This class was chipping away at my chances of becoming the teacher I had dreamed of being at the beginning of the school year. 

While this class made it clear they didn’t like me, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. At the end of class one afternoon, the “challenging” classroom ringleader grabbed his books off his desk and slowly walked up to me. We locked eyes, and then with all sincerity, he calmly said, “We have made so many teachers quit. Just so you know, you are next.” 

How did I respond? Instead of keeping my composure and standing at my post in the hall in between classes, I hid in a bathroom stall and cried. Not my finest moment.

I was so sad. I felt like I was failing. This was not what I had expected education to be. I knew there would be hard days... but why was every day so hard? When would I start feeling like a success?  

“Judas had the best teacher in the world, and look at how he behaved.”

Not long after the classroom incident, I confided in my dear friend. She told me something that completely changed how I measured my success as a teacher. She said, “Judas had the best teacher in the world, and look at how he behaved.”

What freedom that quote gave me! I had been basing my success as a teacher on my students’ reactions and responses to my actions, which was unhealthy for me and unfair to them. Instead, I needed to shift my focus to measurable things I could control–especially if I was going to impact my students as I had desired.

In order to measure my success and my impact on my students, I began to ask myself different questions. Instead of asking, “Do my students like me?” I would ask, “Did I respond in a professional manner that was worthy of respect?”

Other questions that I ask myself at the end of each day include:

  • Whom did I encourage?
  • What improvements did I point out in my students?
  • Did I apologize for any mistakes I made?
  • Was I a good example for my students? 
  • Did I lead with humility?
  • Did I discipline out of love?  
  • Did I say thank you?  How often?  
  • How did I make my students feel safe in my presence?
  • How did I simplify something difficult?
  • Did I share a truth from God’s Word?
  • Which of my students did I pray for?

These daily questions were much more life-giving. They were guiding. And they helped me be a more impactful educator.  

Remember that “challenging” afternoon class I covered for my colleague? Well, I taught them up until the end of the school year. And let’s just say I didn’t see a huge attitude shift in most of them. They were rough up until the very last day. But, I showed up. I was consistent. I did whole-hearted, loving, and joyful work each day I was with them. I was not perfect, but I became really good at asking for and offering forgiveness.  

And, while I did not see all of the discipleship and connections I had hoped for on the first day of my first year of teaching, I faithfully walked into that school building and served. I planted seeds of God’s love into the lives of my students. Now, I will trust the harvest to God.

Sarah Humes is a Spanish teacher and math tutor from Erie, Pa. Sarah loves being a follower of Jesus, a wife to David, and a mom to Micah and Lydia. She also enjoys board games and cats.


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