Provoke Not

Fathers, specifically, and parents collectively, are admonished in Scripture not to provoke their children to wrath.  The alternative offered in Ephesians to provocation is the raising of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.


Provoke is defined as stimulate or incite (someone) to do or feel something, especially by arousing anger in them or deliberately make (someone) annoyed or angry.

So, just what are some things that educators do that provoke students?  What mistakes do teachers make that have long-lasting, hurtful consequences?

As we begin a new school year, let me suggest some serious mistakes that teachers make that can provoke students, inflicting long-term hurt to the student.

  • Teachers should never criticize a student’s family, especially the parents.  While every teacher should know this principle, it is easy to forget it when parents make poor choices for their students or allow behaviors that are not good for their child.  But effective teachers must remind themselves often that our job is en loco parentis.  That’s right, in place of the parent.  That does not mean that we replace the parents; it implies that while the parents loan their children to us that we assume the parental responsibilities.  Teachers must serve and assist parents in the development of students.  This will never be done effectively when a teacher criticizes the parent.  The effective teacher prays for parents, encourages parents, assists parents, but does not criticize parents.
  • Teachers should not compare students against one another.  Paul admonishes the Corinthians that comparing ourselves among ourselves is not wise.  Teachers must guard against the natural tendency to compare students.  Comparisons come in all forms and shapes—two siblings, two students’ mathematical abilities, two students’ athletic abilities, or two classes.  While it is true that students can learn from the example of other students, teachers must be careful to not fall into the trap of comparing students.  The effective teacher learns to motivate students without resorting to unprofitable comparisons.
  • Teachers should not give up on a student.  One of the first rules of counseling is to encourage the counselee to not lose hope.  A student can trudge forward as long as there is hope.  When hope is gone, why should a student continue to exert effort?  This is true non only in the short term (i.e. for an individual subject or class), but it is also true from a big picture perspective.  Teachers must continue to see hope that a student can be successful and can grow into a person that can fulfill God’s design.  The effective teacher learns to maintain hope and vision for all students, working to constantly communicate that hope and vision to the student.
  • Teachers should not become unresponsive to students.  Teachers are human!  And a natural tendency for coping with problem students is to tune them out.  While this is a human response, teachers must work to stay engaged with students.  Disengaged students can often lead to disengaged teachers.  How do you recognize if you begin this drift to the I don’t care zone?  You quit listening to students.  You teach subject matter but fail to teach students.  Your prayers become more “me” focused than “student” focused.  The effective teacher must overcome the tendency to disengage from students that themselves are not engaged.

As we prepare for another school year, let every teacher consider the importance of not “provoking” our students.  The negative behaviors that provoke students often have long-lasting, negative effects.  As we begin this school year, let us commit to nurturing and admonishing students, not provoking them.

Can you think of something that you have noticed yourself doing that you have had to correct because it was “provoking” rather than admonishing students?  

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Edward is the founder and managing editor of Focus on Christian Education. He also serves as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools.