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Why We Must Love the Difficult Students *More* - by John Clark

Why We Must Love the Difficult Students *More*

In March of this year, Pope Francis addressed a gathering of teachers and offered the following counsel:

“Jesus would say, if you love only those who study, who are well educated, what merit have you? And there are those who do lose patience, but we must love those more. Any teacher can do well with good students. I ask you to love ‘difficult’ students more.”

Though his talk was not specifically intended for homeschooling parents, there is much we can learn from his words.

In a typical homeschooling family, some children will enjoy learning more than others, and/or find learning easier than others. Among our children, while some experience a big difficulty in keeping their attention fixed for even twenty minutes at a time, others pick up their books and do three hours worth of homeschooling before even taking a break. After just a single day of homeschooling, every parent quickly learns this lesson: that each child learns differently. Because of that fact, Lisa and I have discovered that we need nine different methods of teaching for our nine children.

Over the years, we have found that some of our children are harder to teach than others. That does not mean that they are not as smart. Not at all. It simply means that they process information uniquely, in the uniquely beautiful way that God envisioned for each of them.

We homeschooling parents tend to pat ourselves on the back for our children who seem to learn easily, yet Pope Francis makes an opposite observation. He asks “What merit have you” for teaching good students? Anyone can teach good students. But only a wonderful and loving person can teach students who have a difficult time learning. We need to meditate on these ideas.

What Pope Francis is saying is that we parents might achieve more merit and more graces in teaching the difficult learners. In a sense, we might receive a higher grade as parents because we are teaching children who receive a lower grade on their work.

There’s another fact worth considering: the child who receives a lower grade might be achieving more merit and more graces, too. Sometimes a “C” represents much harder work and effort for one child than an “A” represents for another. It is important that we homeschooling parents recognize the hard work that often goes into a “C” grade. We need to help those children who struggle academically to understand that they, too, have made great accomplishments. If we don’t, they will feel lost.

I can relate

As a homeschooling student, and later as a college student, I often felt like this myself. While growing up, I remember hearing that the ability to learn foreign languages was an excellent indicator of intelligence. Those words had a searing effect on me as a teenager, as I always struggled mightily with languages. As I saw my brothers excel in Spanish to the point of conversing with each other in that language, and watched one of my brothers become so proficient in French that he began playing the French version of Scrabble, I wondered what was wrong with me. It seemed like the whole world was using some mysterious codes that I was unable to decipher.

Math didn’t do much for my confidence either. My father was a mathematics whiz, having excelled in advanced calculus, but I received only a fraction of his math prowess. Once math got beyond fractions, I got confused. And while some of my brothers seemed to think in equations, it took me more than two years to complete ninth grade math. For me, as far as algebra was concerned, frustration was the constant.

However, my academic perils not-withstanding, my mother never doubted my intelligence. She would often explain to me that many things I did evidenced how smart I was. She explained that, according to some of the tests I had taken, I was even smarter in some ways than my brothers. I don’t think she was trying to get my head in the clouds; I just think she was trying to help me lift it off the floor. As Pope Francis may have put it, she was loving a difficult student more.

In the years since, I have learned that my struggle with learning is perhaps not as much a drawback as it is a gift. Maybe my difficulty then has helped me understand the academic difficulties of my children now. My struggles might have made me a difficult student, but maybe they helped me be a better and more understanding teacher. As a homeschooling father, I understand that we parents are sanctified through our difficulties. And so are our children.

What my struggles taught me is that, whether teaching languages or teaching algebra, the first order of operations is love.

Let’s try to follow the Holy Father’s guidance. If we homeschooling parents are tempted to lose patience, or feel run down, or feel lost, we must love more. Love is the most important subject we will ever teach.

Or ever learn. It’s the most important lesson of them all.

Bored Boy image © Voyagerix / Dollar Photo Club

About John Clark

John Clark is a homeschooling father, a speechwriter, an online course developer for Seton Home Study School, and a weekly blogger for The National Catholic Register. His latest book is “How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford a Decent Cape.”
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