Master Teacher (Part 1)

3 03 2011

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers,
because you know that we who teach
will be judged more strictly.”
-James 3:1

In 2005, I began working on my Masters of Education degree at Lipscomb University.  The first class I took was called the Master Teacher, and it was honestly life-changing.  Not many people can say that about any college class they’ve ever taken.

Our one major paper had to do with reading through the gospel of Luke in one sitting and then writing about the methodologies Jesus used as a teacher. 

I haven’t read this paper since I turned it in to my professors six years ago, but I find the material just as relevant to my teaching and parenting today as it was then.

Because this was originally a 10-page paper, I have split it up into several shorter posts.  So whether you are a teacher in a private or public school, at the elementary or university level, teach science or fine arts, Christian or not, or even if you are not a teacher but are a parent, I believe the methodologies Jesus used are applicable to all of us.

In the past 16 years since becoming a born-again follower of Christ, I have learned much about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, but the old saying is true for me:  “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”

One example to illustrate this is in my teaching.  I am in my fifteenth year of teaching, and it does get better and easier each year.  I am more relaxed with my students, and I can get the information out a little better each semester.  I thought I had my job pretty well under control.  I know I’m not at the level of a “master” or “expert” teacher, but I don’t consider myself a rookie anymore, either.  Until I studied Jesus as a teacher, that is. 

Since my first graduate assignment of reading the Gospel of Luke, I have critiqued myself in the classroom more than I have ever done since I began teaching in 1996.  God has shown me weaknesses in my teaching that I didn’t know I had—nothing devastating—but areas I can improve upon nonetheless.  He has also reaffirmed to me the things I am doing right to glorify Him in my classroom.  My time in the Master Teacher class showed me many facets of Jesus as a teacher that I had never thought about, but that do directly affect who I am in the classroom.

Perhaps the most important teaching point that is relevant to me as a teacher is the fact that Jesus always took time to hear an individual’s problem, despite the time or the crowds around him.  Often, it was necessary for Jesus to teach the masses—the modern approach could be classified as lecturing.  This is not a bad methodology; it is simply one way to get information out to a multitude of people at one time.

However, when I lecture, if a student had a question, I would often ask him to wait until I finished.  Sometimes this was necessary, sometimes it was not.  I still find myself thinking about this principle every time I tell a student to “hold on—let me finish this” or “I’ll be there in one minute.”  I really can’t imagine Jesus telling another person to “wait a second.”  This point more than any other has deeply convicted me.  Far too often I have made students wait until it was convenient for me to help them.  Since becoming aware of this practice six years ago in my classroom, I often find that answering the question then and there is the best course of action.  I don’t have a chance to forget, as has happened far too frequently, and my students certainly appreciate the attention given to them when they really need it.

A second teaching point I learned from studying Jesus’ teaching methodologies is that silence is sometimes the best answer.  Jesus frequently used silence in response to a question as is illustrated in his encounter with the angry mob who wanted to stone the unfaithful wife or when he was falsely accused during his trials before his crucifixion.  I find myself using silence more for several reasons. 

  1. If I think a student already knows the answer, I will often wait before jumping in.  This has proven quite successful.  I have been too quick to answer a question from a student when I know she knows the answer.  I now simply give my students “the look,” and they know that I’m not going to give them the easy way out.
  2. Another positive aspect of this methodology is that the number of “stupid questions” I get has decreased.  My students think more before they speak which is always a good thing.
  3. Silence is a great way to get someone’s attention.  My students know that when I’m not talking but am standing and ready, what I’ve got to say next is important.  They settle down quicker and listen more attentively.

A third methodology  is the art of answering questions with questions.  As mentioned in the previous paragraph, I used to be way too quick to want to jump right in with the answer.  Most of the time, I have discovered, this habit stemmed from laziness.  I didn’t want to have to help or explain something again; giving the answer directly was just quicker and easier.

I have worked on this greatly over the years—using leading questions and learning to use the Socratic method with my students.  These are great strategies if you ask the right questions.  However, asking the right questions to direct the student’s thinking is the difficult part.

Jesus was the master at this.  Of course, his being God, in nature all-knowing, was very helpful.  He knew the hearts of the men and women he spoke with so he could easily pinpoint the source of conflict and ask a pointed question right to the heart of the matter.  If I don’t really know my students and their abilities, asking leading questions could be frustrating for all of us.

To go along with answering questions with questions is Jesus’ use of parables as a way of teaching new or difficult concepts by using common and relevant ideas.  While Jesus was a master at this, I am not, but I do tell personal stories whenever possible if they help get the point across.  In fact, I find my students repeating examples from such stories on their essays and quizzes.  The personal touch resonates much stronger with my students than a general Power Point presentation.

I hope you stay tuned for my next few posts on this topic in which I will address:

  • Answering questions with scripture.
  • Jesus was not immune from frustration.
  • The importance of pro-active prayer.
  • Did Jesus treat everyone the same?
  • Using different learning and teaching styles to your advantage.
  • We teach by example.
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7 03 2011
Master Teacher (Part 2) « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] examining the teaching methodologies of Jesus based on a reading through the gospel of Luke.  In Master Teacher (Part 1), I talked […]

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