As much as I am absolutely passionate about teaching the Bible to kids and teens, there have been a few days when I would have rather been in bed. Sometimes, I wasn’t feeling well physically. At other times, something was happening in my life that made me angry, sad or just plain exhausted. My mood as I approached my classroom was not “happy” to say the least.
You may have felt the same. Maybe you feel that way a lot lately. Often when we fell “unhappy”, our behavior is less than ideal. We may have angry looks on our faces, reminding everyone around us life isn’t so great. Perhaps our tempers are shorter than normal. We lack enthusiasm and energy. Everything feels like more trouble than it is worth and everyone seems a bit more annoying than normal. Depending on the severity of how we feel, the message we give to others can be anything from “I wish I were still in bed” to “Look at me the wrong way and I won’t be responsible for what happens to you.”
As a volunteer who is trying to point young people to God, you often have a very limited amount of time to work with your students. Even if it’s a couple of hours a week, it’s a small fraction of the week for your students. While honesty is crucial, it is not necessary to “share” your moods with your students. When you share your bad moods with students, it can appear to them you are a teacher who is angry with them or doesn’t really want to be there. A moody, angry teacher is not as effective as a welcoming, open one. Your students may be more concerned about protecting themselves from your mood than about learning what you are trying to teach them.
So how can you be the joyful Christian God calls us to be, effectively reaching your students when your mood is anything but joyful?
- Repeat and put Philippians 4:8 into practice. “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (NIV) Have you ever noticed when you are in a bad mood, your mind wants to think over and over and over again about everything that made your mood so dark? Sometimes convincing yourself to leave all of those thoughts outside the classroom door and forcing yourself to think on all of the wonderful things mentioned in Philippians, can create enough of a shift to give you the positive mindset you need to be more joyful for your students.
- Pray for a short respite. Ask God to help you put your troubles aside while you are teaching your class. Pray He helps you focus only on His blessings while your students are in your room. Ask Him to help you see Him continuing to work on the situation troubling you and on your reactions to it.
- Smile – especially with your eyes. I will be the first to admit, nothing sends me over the edge more than someone telling me to “Smile”. Studies have shown over and over though, forcing your face to smile does at least temporarily lift moods. Think about the things that make you happiest in life. How do you smile? How do your eyes light up when you see them? Force your face to do those same things in spite of how you feel.
- Get a substitute. If your program doesn’t provide substitutes, have a couple of people who will agree to step in for you when you can’t teach. Ask them to help if you just can’t pull it together. Please don’t expose your students to unnecessary illness. You may be able to function while ill, but it can have much worse consequences for your students if they catch your illness. If your mood is such that your anger (for example) would be detrimental to your students, please find someone else to teach until you can get your emotions under control.
- Admit to your students what is really happening. Sometimes a bad headache hits right as you walk into the classroom. Or maybe you got a phone call with bad news as your students arrived. If you know you won’t be able to pull it together emotionally for your students, apologize and explain in age appropriate ways what is happening. “I am so sorry if I seem upset today. My head hurts a lot. I will try really hard to still be loving, but please help me today by being on your very best behavior.” The few times I have needed to do that, my students have risen to the occasion. It’s also a lesson in compassion and forgiveness for them.
Your mood can effect not only your students, but what they are able to learn from your lesson that day. Trying to leave any “bad” moods at the classroom door can give you a break and help you reach your students more effectively. So put that imaginary “bad day” basket outside of your classroom door and leave all those negative emotions in it – at least until class is over.