Teaching and Learning
“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Romans 1:20
We see in this verse that God, from the beginning, has been teaching man, even in His creation of all things. It is our task, as teachers, to open up to pupils what that creation is (i.e. the world in which we live) so that they may learn to operate in it. If we fully open up that revelation in creation God will be seen.
What is Teaching?
Mannafields sees teaching as many things together. It is learning how to learn; it is developing creativity; it is acquiring skills but it is also gathering a body of knowledge that gives meaning and context to new information, as well as training the memory. It is fostering a thirst for knowledge by taking pupils’ questions and enthusiasms seriously.
Above all, teaching is developing the character to be able to acquire and use information wisely. It leads the pupil to inner work of the soul and mind, facing fears and weaknesses, until, with the help of those around, new strength is found.
Who is the Teacher?
A teacher must be many things, fitting this multifaceted understanding of teaching. The teacher is an important source of information and a touchstone in interpreting new information. However, the teacher should also be a facilitator of learning, a director of studies, a role model, co-learner and friend.
Teachers set new challenges. They then draw out from pupils the knowledge that will enable them to meet this challenge, helping them to see the connection between that knowledge and the new situation. The teacher helps pupils to narrow the gap until they can jump it and succeed in overcoming the challenge.
At other times, the teacher needs to lay out each step clearly for the pupil to retrace, again and again, until it becomes meaningful. The teacher also needs to know when and how to let their heart show in sharing enthusiasm or personal stories of growth and learning.
Many principles related to teaching and learning are laid out in a paper from the Shepherd’s Community School, Brockley entitled “Class Control Clues from the Methods of Jesus” which are included, with various additions, here.
As teachers, we often have a little moan about the particular difficulties which face us – perhaps it is the children’s lack of interest, their restlessness or lack of concentration; or, perhaps the demands of teaching groups with wide ability or age ranges; or the problem of inadequate facilities – a room that’s too small or too large or whatever. Let us recognise first that Jesus as the Master Teacher faces these sorts of problems. Note the following:
- Much of this teaching was with large crowds (Matthew 5:1). Sometimes these crowds were restless (see Luke 12:1 – trampling on one another!). He also taught the small group of the twelve. Both large and small groups have their particular problems for the teacher, and Jesus knew all about them. Certainly he had to speak across huge ability and age ranges as well as difference of class and race.
- Jesus’ description of the crowd in Matthew 9:36 was “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” – no easy class this!
- Jesus knew what it was to be constantly pestered (Matthew 14:13). He was in constant demand and as a teacher he did not shrink away from the inevitability of that.
- As He taught he often had to face open hostility (Matthew 12, Luke 4:28).
- He often taught in different situations. It was distinctly cramped in Capernaum (see Mark 2:2) and on the other hand he had to hold together a vast crowd on the open hillside (John 6:3-5)
- He knew what it was to have pupils who were very slow to get the idea! (Matthew 16:5‑12)
- He knew what it was to be constantly watched and open to criticism something that all teachers must be ready for (Luke 14:1, 20:20)
- Jesus was such a superb teacher that he did not generally face the problem of lack of interest, but perhaps the reaction of the people in his home town of Nazareth came close to this.
How did Jesus use and express this authority in the nitty gritty of his daily teaching?
- Prayer was a vital element. It was evident to everyone that Jesus prayed “often” (Luke 5:16). Clearly he was well prepared for every teaching day- the best preparation is to be as close as possible to Father. He was ready to burst into prayer in mid-lesson (Matthew 11:25,26), and His disciples often found Him in prayer. This made it clear that Jesus was constantly gaining the right authority from His Father. Are we quick to bring the authority of the Lord into the classroom by prayer?
- Jesus claimed this, “My teaching is not My own” (John 7:16). There should be something different when Christian teachers are teaching under the authority and inspiration of the Lord. We should be able to say that the Lord really does give us fresh ideas and inspiration.
- Fresh interesting lessons. Note Matthew 13:52 carefully- “Every teacher…. is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old”. There should be this element of bringing out treasures in our teaching (a school motto: Isaiah 33:6). Our authority will be weakened if we churn out material that has a “sameness” about it.
- Jesus knew “what to say” (John 12: 49, 50). He could even say, “Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say”. It is no good coming to a lesson and quite honestly not having prepared what you need to explain or instruct a class about.
- Jesus knew “how to say it” (John 12: 49). It is one thing to know what to say, but it is equally important to know how to say it in such a way as to gain and keep attention.
- Differentiation: Jesus taught the crowds in parables but gave deeper explanation to the disciples (Matthew 13:11). He recognised different levels of understanding. Teaching should be stretched but not beyond the level of comprehension. When pupils are able to succeed they will enjoy their work much more and so work harder.
- Classroom organisation: In Mark 6:39-41 Jesus had a clear organisational strategy for distributing the food to the five thousand that included group work and delegation. Teachers must give careful thought as to how tasks can be efficiently carried out and how pupils can be part of the organisation.
- Use of the voice: Our voice is a precious gift and obviously Jesus used His voice with great variety of tone in His teaching. He spoke in a loud voice at times (John 7:37), but I do not detect evidence that this was frequent. It seems more likely to have been clear and forthright with variety of tone to express the variety of feeling appropriate to what He was teaching. Certainly His voice would never have expressed boredom!
- Catch phrases: Sometimes a teacher becomes known for a catch phrase – it actually achieves that purpose when judiciously used – it catches pupils’ attention. Jesus’ phrase was, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8 – with a loud voice there!)
- Welcoming people: Jesus welcomed the crowds (Luke 9:11). Isn’t that amazing after all the pressures he’d been through! Do we welcome pupils gladly at the start of a lesson – if not by actual words, at least by our whole attitude? If we resent them, fear them or are bored by them, our authority will again be weakened.
- Gracious words: This was part of Jesus’ authority (Luke 4:22). “Gracious” implies a deep respect for other people even if you have to say tough things to them. It also implies a calm unruffled manner. Jesus never flapped – that’s a mark of true authority.
- Treat children with respect: Jesus commands us, “see that you do not look down on one of these little ones” (Matthew 18:10). Jesus loved children, played with them, laughed with them, but never talked down to them. Being in authority does not imply at all that we are superior to children.
- Honesty and openness: If Jesus was going through it, he shared it honestly and openly. He never pretended. He was deeply troubled (John 13:21) and even wept (John 11:35) in public. It does not weaken authority to be open and honest. Teaching is a human activity.
- Position for teaching: Little details are important in teaching. Jesus made sure he was in a position where he could be seen and heard and where he would look at people (Luke 6:20). Eye to eye contact is important for authority (think of a lion tamer!). Sometimes Jesus stood to teach (Luke 6:17) and sometimes he sat (Mark 4:1). For different types of teaching we may need to think which is most appropriate.
- Check on understanding: In Matthew 13:51 Jesus says, “Have you understood all these things?” Pupils will tend to be better behaved if they know you are a teacher who really cares about how they are getting on.
- Review: In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” In this and other places he asks his disciples to put into their own words and repeat the things that he had taught them. It is good practice to ask pupils at the end of a lesson what they have learned or at the beginning of a lesson get one pupil to give a summary of what was learned in the last lesson.
- Jesus had “presence”: It was evident when he went anywhere that here was an outstanding servant, one who was anointed with power – possessing the very presence of God himself. As Colossians 2:9 states, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”, but it does not stop there. It goes on, “you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority”. The sort of ‘presence’ that we must seek for and pray for is this very fullness which includes the genuine authority which the Lord intends us to have.
- Giving Responsibility: We see Jesus giving increasing levels of delegated responsibility to different groups of His followers (Luke 5:1-11, 9:1-6, 10:1-20, John 21:15-19). As pupils are given responsibility in organising materials and pupils, caring for others and passing on knowledge to others they gain a stake in the educational process and are therefore motivated towards it. Many children behave irresponsibly because they have been given no responsibility. We should continually seek to see ways of passing on responsibility, without letting this become a distraction to education.
- Positive Reinforcement: In Matthew 8:10 we see Jesus drawing attention to the centurion’s faith. As we make pupils’ good behaviour the focus of attention rather then their failings, we encourage them behave well to get the teacher’s notice. Giving stars and rewards can be a very useful addition to verbal reinforcements. These should not all be given for academic merit but for effort, helpfulness, improvements etc. so that all can be encouraged.
There are no doubt many others things which could be drawn from Jesus’ methods which have relevance for classroom control, but perhaps these thoughts will provide a starting point for further study. We must go through each point prayerfully and if we recognise areas where we fall short of the Lords’ model, let us not despair but let’s pray and work together and help each other so that we will be able to recognise the quiet firm authority of Jesus present in every classroom.