Do you ever wonder why students don’t listen to your advice? I do. I have had several encounters with students as a substitute teacher and I ask, “Why won’t they just listen to me? Don’t they know I’m trying help?”

Every parent, youth pastor, teacher, or adult who works with teens has said this. It’s not an earth shattering revelation, but teens don’t listen to adults unless there has been a significant investment first and sometimes that doesn’t work either. Once again, not front page news, but I jotted down a few thoughts about this while subbing the other day.

I’m working this out on the fly, so hang with me.

One reason students don’t care about how I can help them is that their teenage brains are developing and they can’t quite make the connection that my story, life experiences, etc. could be of value to them.

Another reason, I believe, has to do with my interactions with them. If these students in my class were kids in my youth ministry, our relationships would be different. I just don’t have history with them.

The position of substitute teacher is, in and of itself, an obstacle to getting students to listen. Kids want normalcy and their teacher has thrown them into a not normal scenario with a stranger.

I want students to care about how valuable my life has been thus far which I am aware is super narcissistic. It’s not fair to have lofty expectations of students for so short an amount of time.

Students don’t have the brain capacity to care about the macro they way I do. They very much care about the micro. 

We care about 

  • The narrative 
  • The context 
  • The reason
  • The why 
  • The book

Students care about 

  • The one liner 
  • The moment 
  • The action
  • The when 
  • the meme

I’m being judged in the moment, not my body of work. It’s easy to get offended and angry with a teenager who doesn’t see how hard I’ve worked on my 50+ life.

My sarcastic remark or angry tone carries far more weight with a teen than that story about that time I did something amazing. Each of my micro-encounters doesn’t have to be perfect, but they should be at least consistent. 

I need to keep my micro interactions honest, kind and welcoming leaving the door open to another interaction. Time+Kindness = Impact

In the end, as a substitute teacher, I simply haven’t yet accumulated enough micro-transactions with the students I’d like to make an impact on and must curb my enthusiasm about how great I think I am and valuable my life should be to them and instead focus on doing my job with as much kindness they’ll allow me to share without taking advantage of me.

This quote stands true, “People don’t care how much you know, until the know how much you care.” This is true in substitute teaching and equally true in youth ministry. My advice to myself, don’t try to reap where you have not sown and do not try to draw from a bank in which I have not made an investment.

Spread the word. Share this post!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.