Teachers set the tone in a classroom and can affect children’s lives in profound ways. What teachers do and say encourages or discourages their students. When teachers model acceptance and caring for all children, the students are likely to follow their example; The resulting classroom climate is conducive to children’s growth and development. Children thrive when teachers:
• Sincerely like them and believe in their worth
• Are dedicated to helping children learn
• Are enthusiastic about teaching and inspire their students
• Are prepared, consistent and firm
• Provide a nurturing, safe environment
• Accept themselves as imperfect and freely admit to making mistakes
• Model fairness, honesty and dependability
• Listen carefully and give recognition freely
• Are sensitive and respectful of children’s individual differences
• Provide an opportunity for children to help formulate classroom rules
• Help children feel important by allowing them to make choices
• Have clear, high, reasonable expectations for children’s work
• Acknowledge children’s efforts and successes no matter how small
• Stress that it is okay to make mistakes because they are a natural part of learning
• Avoid threats, sarcasm, favoritism and pity
• Focus on solutions to problems rather than on punishment
• Teach children how to solve their problems peacefully by listening to each other and by compromising
• Provide opportunities for children to encourage and applaud one another
• Involve parents or guardians as partners in their children’s education
• Invite them to dream, share goals, and to think of themselves as being successful
The Christian Trait of Successful Teachers
So how do we model Christ in our teaching? Is there a Christian way to teach?
Whenever Christian is used as an adjective, misconceptions arise. For instance, Tom Shovel, in his article “What is a Christian Language Teacher?” tells of a cobbler in John Calvin’s congregation who, when identified as a Christian, was sarcastically asked if he made Christian shoes. The cobbler replied that no, he didn’t make Christian shoes, but rather, made shoes well.
Similarly, in order to be a good teacher, you don’t have to be a Christian. But you need to model Christian principles. For Christianity is not just a religion, or some compartmentalized facet of existence. Rather, it testifies to reality itself, the true nature of all that exists. So when we teach according to Christ’s example, we teach more effectively. As such, we shouldn’t be surprised when sincere secular sources echo biblical assertions. For instance, in the book “what the best college teachers do”, Ken Bain concludes after much observation, research, and analysis that humility is crucial to good teaching. He found that unsuccessful teachers trade this trait for arrogance and pride.
They desire to be “the star of the show,” working to impress students with their expertise and knowledge, all the while instilling in students a sense of insecurity at their own informational deficit. Ultimately this constructs a hierarchy of subservience with the teacher on the top and the students on the bottom, a comprehensive contrast to the model of Christ but quite in line with that of Pharisees.
This approach suffers one of the greatest miseries of pride, crippling the faculty for joy. For such pride desires nothing in and of itself, but only the admiration that possessing some coveted thing will bring. Teachers of this sort forfeit the love of learning for the love of being learned. They cannot impart love of the subject matter to the students entrusted to their care, for they themselves have lost it.
On the other hand, here is a composite picture of successful teacher: With trust and openness comes an unabashed and frequently expressed sense of awe and curiosity about life, and this too affects the relationships that emerge. It appears most frequently and prominently in people who have a sense of humility about themselves and their own learning. They may realize what they know and even that their own knowledge is far greater than that of their students, but they also understand how much they don’t know and that in the great scheme of things their own accomplishments place them relatively close to their students.
A teacher who teaches well approaches students with humility and vulnerability, realizing that man-made merits pale in comparison to the great reality. This description resonates well with the method of seminary professor Howard Hendricks, who states that, “I, as a teacher, am primarily a learner, a student among students.”
A good teacher must always be learning, a process best facilitated by a natural wonder and reverence for the world around us. Christian teachers, in particular, are called to cultivate an awe of creation, as all the universe was made through Christ and, even now, he sustains each aspect of its very existence (Col. 1:16-17). In contrast to prideful teachers, Christ delights in the knowledge of the creation, and he willingly forfeited his superlative status to walk among us in it. Philippians 2:5-7 exhorts us to follow his example:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
In his book teaching to change lives, Hendricks recalls an encounter with one of his own professors who models well the humble service of Christ. The professor’s habit of studying both early in the morning and late into the night piqued Hendricks’s curiosity. When he asked his professor about this practice, the professor replied, “Son, I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.” In the same way that Shovel’s account conjures up images of the faithful cobbler searching out the best materials for his shoemaking, this story brings to mind scenes of the committed teacher searching through libraries for the finest information to present to his students.
Therefore, out of reverence for Christ, let us also teach in a Christian way. That is to say, let us teach in a way that corresponds with the true nature of the universe made and sustained by Jesus Christ. Reality mandates that pride destroys and humility strengthens. Anyone who recognizes this law can certainly be a good teacher, but Christians should be the very best teachers. For only Christ can grant us the true humility necessary to count our students more significant than ourselves, preoccupying us with his glory rather than our own.