This is one of the hardest areas for teachers to balance. When do students need to be brought into loving arms, and when do they need clear reinforced boundaries, or tough love?
My foster son called me today (he is always in and out of trouble and in and out of prison)… but today he called to inform me that they took his baby from him. And he wanted me to testify on his behalf. I found this to be a major moral dilemma for me… I hate to judge who would be a more fit parent for this baby and I truly would love to help out my foster son… but I also couldn’t find myself willing to testifying on his behalf as well. And if I chose not to "help" him by testifying then perhaps I was actually really helping him? As educators and in life we often find ourselves asking, - when is tough love the right answer?
I always suggest that we re-read Luke 15 when these situations arise and determine - what does the situation call for? Are we dealing with a lost and injured sheep or a prodigal and rebellious son? The story of the injured sheep is a story of a shepherd leaving the healthy flock and going after the lost and injured sheep and picking that “special” one up on His shoulder to carry back to the flock. I always recommend that this one gets tried first, particularly as I teach about dealing with the students with emotional disabilities… and these students are truly “injured sheep”. But if you are dealing with a “rebellious son” or if all else fails and the loving arms are no longer what is needed, then tough love is in order. And this is the picture of the son who needs to be “released” to see how good he had it when he was with his father, allowing the son to "eat with the pigs" and experience pain in hopes he will return to his family.
I worry sometimes my foster son (or sometimes my students) will see my decisions as rejection. But the biggest message of Luke 15 is the celebration of the return of the lost coin, lost sheep and lost son. And this is often our prayer as educators and sometimes as parents… that he will be “found”.