The Love of Teaching
As I begin my twenty-ninth year of teaching this week, I thought I’d jot down a few miscellaneous thoughts about education. The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is looking for the “Seven Keys” to successful teaching. Jesus alone is the Master Teacher. But, for what they are worth, here are the rules of the road I strive to follow.
Christian education is likeness education. We teachers impact our students more by our character than by our communication. Is this not true? People learn best by example, not by direct instruction. “Actions speak louder than words.” This is how the Savior taught – He chose 12 men to “be with Him,” then He poured His life into them. As a teacher I must move from being a mere “dispenser of information” to a mentor and organizer of the learning process.
My job is to serve my students, not vice versa. My goal is to meet my students’ needs, not for them to meet mine. Effective teachers understand their pupils and discern what causes their difficulties. Now this has several important implications, not least that we should be more student-oriented than subject-oriented. Classes must be interesting – each and every one of them! As someone once put it, “There is no such thing as a boring teacher. If he’s boring, he’s not a teacher.” Students have a right to want to come to class, to be dismissed on time, to have their papers graded by their prof (and not by a proxy), to get their work back promptly, to be trusted with take-home exams, to have teachers with open door policies, etc.
Strive for life change, not just knowledge. The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation – every word, everywhere! Let us, then, focus on learning and not just on teaching.
Less is more. O, how true this is! We can “talk much” and “teach little.” If this is so, why not concentrate on the essentials? Far too many teachers engage in “content dump.” In seminary I had a prof who employed the “You sit still and I instill method” of teaching. All the while we kept asking ourselves, “What good is all of this?” Far better to focus on the irreducible minimum that must be understood and then mastered. Even Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but they are too much for you now” (John 16:12)!
Emphasize relevance over rote memory. Much of my studying in seminary had one goal: to pass the next test. As soon as the test was over, the information I had “learned” was quickly forgotten, of course. Why do we remember certain phone numbers? Because we understand their value. It’s the same with teaching. There’s nothing a student hates more than busywork!
Challenge students to think for themselves. The fill-in-the-blank approach to learning tends to produce students with simplistic answers to complex questions. In my own college and seminary experience I was, more often than not, taught what to think rather than challenged to think for myself. A wise teacher gives students the tools necessary for their own personal reading and study of the Scriptures.
Above all, students need to see in us “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). The key to effective teaching is an incarnational model, based on Philippians 2:5-11. May we let Christ’s mind be our own and in humility count others as more important than ourselves! Whenever we teach let us keep in the forefront of our minds the infinite worth of our students and the tremendous privilege it is to serve them.
The Magi said, “We have seen His star.” But they also did something about it. They came to where He was. Likewise, we must come to Him – all of us, whether teacher or student – in repentance and faith and love. Just as the Wise Men worshipped Him, so we must bow down before Him and confess Him as Lord and give Him our very best gifts – academic and otherwise.
If you too are returning to the classroom this fall, may the Master Teacher bless you in every way.
August 16, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.