“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” John 13:13
I have so much love and respect for teachers. Like almost everyone, I’ve had the benefit of many great teachers throughout my life without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. I also worked in education for the first seven years of my career either as a teacher or supporting teachers, so I know firsthand how challenging teaching is! I think it’s one of the hardest jobs on the planet, and one that our culture doesn’t value enough.
One of my favorite teachers is Jesus. The disciples often called him rabbi, or teacher, throughout the Gospels. Jesus experienced the same challenges that most teachers do. He had to manage all types of personalities, comprehension levels, and learning styles in the same group. He had to find interesting and engaging ways to teach complex theological concepts. And he had to be patient and persistent when his disciples just didn’t get it.
Here are some best practices gleaned from Jesus’ example that all master teachers know!
1. Believe all students can learn.
The disciples were a rag-tag group of unsophisticated fisherman and a despised tax collector. Yet somehow Jesus was able to see the enormous potential of these individuals to develop into bold leaders who would eventually risk their lives to spread Jesus’ message after his death. Jesus knew something that modern behavioral research now reveals: people don’t change when they are pressured or shamed into changing. Instead, they grow when there is at least one person who believes in them and supports them no matter what.
Teachers perform the vital function of believing in our kids’ as-yet-unrevealed future every day. It is exhausting, rewarding, messy, beautiful, and often thankless work. Hug a teacher!
2. Set high expectations for your students in a safe learning environment.
Though Jesus’ followers had diverse abilities and needs, he maintained high expectations for all of them. He encouraged them to strive for perfection (Matthew 5:48), but he also created a space where they felt safe asking questions, exploring their doubts, and making mistakes. And the disciples were always making mistakes! Thankfully, Jesus was just as often giving them opportunities to fix their mistakes. One of my favorite stories (which I explored in this post) is that of Peter after he shamefully denies Jesus three times on the last night of Jesus’ life. After his resurrection, Jesus appears on a beach where Peter is fishing and asks Peter three times if he loves him. Peter gets the answer right all three times, and he never forgets the importance of faithfulness again!
I know teachers who go the extra mile every day to set their students up for success: teachers who wake up early on a Saturday to pick up kids for tutoring, who spend hours looking at student data and planning how to re-teach a lesson that students didn’t understand, and who pack extra food in their lunch for a student they know doesn’t get enough to eat at home. Teachers do many things every day that never get noticed but make a huge difference. Please hug a teacher!
3. Create independent thinkers.
Jesus knew that he wouldn’t be with the disciples forever, so he wanted to ensure that they were equipped to carry on without him. Jesus developed critical thinking skills by teaching with challenging parables, or stories, and by answering a question with another question. These techniques invited his listeners to do the hard work of interpretation. To really learn something, Jesus knew his followers had to study it for themselves. And some of his more confusing parables and questions could fill a lifetime of study!
Creating independent learners is hard! Teachers are amazing beings who think about how to create lessons with the right balance of support and independence, how to ask questions that gradually increase students’ depth of understanding, and how to create assignments that are relevant to the real world. Most mortals’ brains would explode trying to plan lessons that create independent learners. Teachers do this type of lesson planning every. single. day. Go hug a teacher!
4. Teaching is serving.
On the last night of his life, Jesus bent down like a servant and washed his disciples’ feet. “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet” (John 13:12-15). Jesus didn't just sit in front of them and talk. He taught them by example through his actions. The day after he washed their feet, Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross not only for his followers, but for you and for me and for all sinners everywhere.
When I was in education, I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” But this phrase never got stale because it’s so true! Teachers know that love and sacrifice are one and the same. Teachers sacrifice their time, their money, and their sanity on a daily basis for kids that aren’t even theirs. That is amazing love. What are you waiting for? Go hug a teacher!
Thanks for reading!