If you’re like me, seasons of discouragement come along at some point in a school year. We get tired, we get behind, we get frustrated, we experience setbacks. These things accrue, and it becomes easier and easier to hit the snooze button.
Interestingly, I find that in these situations the way up is often down. 
What I mean is that rather than trying to encourage myself up and out of a slump like this, it often helps me most to encourage others. The key, of course, is for the encouragement to be genuine.
Last week, I experimented with this “genuine encouragement” thing so that I could share some examples of what I mean:
- I had a moment where a young lady came to my class and asked me for something, but then she was late to her class, and so I, having no class that hour, walked her to the class she was late for. As I was doing it, I told her that she was the kind of young lady I pray my daughters will be one day: pleasant, hard-working, earnest about school, drama-free. She said it was the best compliment she’d ever received — which just shows you how pleasant and kind she is.
- There is a young man whose locker is in my hallway, and ever since I taught him as a ninth grader (he is now a junior), there has been a lot of laughter in our relationship with an undercurrent of mutual care and respect. Unfortunately, “aimless wandering” would be how I would describe his high school career so far. But the other day, I asked him yet again how things were going and what his plan was, and he eagerly shared about how he’s joining the military and he’s been practicing for his ASVAB test and this and that and the other thing. Seeing him so excited and focused and practical was exciting for me and something I had been hoping and praying for for him since he was a ninth grader. I told him as much, and told him to keep up the good work. I could tell that the words meant something to him as they had to me.
- The other evening, I saw a young lady I teach having dinner with her father at our town’s little brewery. I went up to her father and told him that I admired his parenting because of the fruit it had brought forth in his daughter. I went on to describe the impact she has had on her classmates and me through her consistent, kind, and hard-working demeanor.
- In the middle of the week, a young man who struggles in my ninth grade AP World History class stayed after class for a moment to talk with me, and we got to me asking him if he ever regretted joining the class. He said he hadn’t, describing how the class was always one he looked forward to and that the challenge was part of why he was glad he’d signed up. This, of course, was encouraging to me — but then I told him that I was thankful I had the chance to teach him, and that I appreciated his presence and his sense of humor in the room each day.
There isn’t anything stupendous or Hollywood-esque in these moments of genuine encouragement. I almost always feel like I am tripping over my words and poorly communicating what I intend. But taking on the objective of genuinely encouraging someone today is bound to bring us a highlight that we won’t regret. The time cost is minimal, and the upside is huge — because who knows what that shot in the arm will lead the person we’re encouraging to go and do. These are the kinds of daily actions we all have available to us, regardless of the teaching situation, the school setting, or the prevailing policies.
- This is something I heard Tim Keller say once upon a time.