Teaching: Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgement. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” James 3:1,2
“Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone…all in all, you’re just another brick in the wall!”
Ethan was having a really great day, probably one of many such. It was easy to see why his day was so great – he was running the classroom, not the beleaguered kindergarten teacher. The five other students were obviously enjoying Ethan’s antics, but were not bold enough to follow his example.
“Ok, let’s all…Ethan! Please come and join the group. Ethan, right now, please! Well…ok, then, let’s all sing our verse this week…Ethan, we’re singing now, wouldn’t you like to join us? Yes, those are for the snack, but that’s later…Ethan, please put those back!”
For the first time in all the times I had observed teachers, in Logos and in other schools like this one, I had an almost overwhelming urge to step in and bring a halt to this disaster of classroom. The really awful fact was that it was January so this daily routine of Ethan having the bit in his teeth and running amok had apparently been going on for months! So, as one member of a visiting ACCS accreditation team, I quietly closed my notebook (in which I had scrawled “Arrgghh!” on the page for this observation) and left the room. That school did not receive accreditation, it should be somewhat needless to say.
Unlike complicated work with its own vocabulary like brain surgery, car repair, plumbing, or accounting, pretty much everyone thinks that, if push came to shove, they could always get into “education.” It is a fact that colleges of education across the country have a reputation for not only being relatively easy, they don’t always attract the highest IQs on campus. The NEA blames this on the lack of high salaries in the teaching profession. The reasoning being that if teachers were paid what good engineers get, more engineer-level brains would try their hand at teaching. Right. No doubt more young people would indeed be drawn to teaching if the entering salaries were doubled; nonetheless the primary problem remains that high IQs and high salaries do not a good teacher make.
Also unlike the above named professions, education does not have any kind of cohesive, undergirding philosophy, principles, or practices. Having earned two degrees in education, I can assure you that secular educators as a whole are like the double-minded man, tossed about by every wind of ‘doctrine:’ “See-Say methodology for reading?” Ok! “Open classrooms?” Sure! “New math?” Why not! “Outcome Based Education?” You bet! “Whole language?” Sounds great! “Values instruction?” Whatever. Shifts in clothing styles have nothing on how often teachers need to change their teaching methods and curricular options to meet the current demand.
Christian teachers may be tempted at this point to lift the disdainful eyebrow and shake their heads in disgust at their secular counterparts. “Aren’t we all blessed to have the unchanging Word of God to use in our classrooms?”, they may ask each other rhetorically speaking. Ah yes. The Word of God is indeed unchanging and unchangeable, but what does that have to do with how we Christian teachers teach? Really, how? Sadly, many such teachers don’t know the answer to that rather important question. All too frequently Christian schools are started and then maintained by sincerely minded and poorly equipped people. Hirings of teachers are based largely on the testimony of the person instead of how that person understands the necessary integration of their biblical knowledge with their teaching. Teaching skills? No worries. Again, sincerity is the primary criterion for placing the person in front of twenty third graders.
All teachers, secular or Christian, by the very act of teaching are held up as models of some kind to their charges. Good intentions are not the sole property of either the secular or the spiritual teacher. And, as the saying might go, good intentions and sincerity, along with $4.00 might buy you a gallon of gas (except in California).
The Scriptures are hardly silent about teaching. Our Lord Himself said the student seeks, but might not reach, the level of his teacher. James warns teachers because the frequent use of the tongue gets a man in trouble (and teachers tend to talk a lot!). Teachers are important people, especially in the lives of their pupils. It behooves them, therefore, to give their calling a lot of thought. I don’t believe teachers are just born with that destiny (although many are); all teachers can improve in their craft. At the same time, there are many teachers, especially in Christian schools (because of the critical nature of that work) who should stop immediately and pursue a vocation for which they are better suited.
Logos School demands a whale of a lot from its teachers: they must be Christians who know the Lord and His Scriptures intimately; they must dearly and clearly love their students (which includes how to bestow loving correction), they must demonstrate a passion for learning (especially for their disciplines), they must be able to teach skillfully (as measured by The Seven Laws of Teaching – a model we adopted), they must understand and seek to better apply techniques that correspond to the applicable trivium level, and they must understand how their work needs to dovetail with the training children should receive in a Christian home.
Oh yes, and do all this in a creative, winsome manner while maintaining a faithful daily walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Obviously, being all sinners, we don’t always measure up to those standards. But we know what we must aim at and, only by God’s grace, continue to strive for them as worthy goals. My father, after a lifetime in higher education, made a memorable comment to me many years ago when Logos was first getting started. He said, “Your school will succeed because you know what it is you want to do.” I have finally come to understand and appreciate how insightful that was. He was right, and God’s been very kind to us. Please don’t stop praying for your teachers!