Before I was a School Chaplain, I was a Secondary English teacher. And it was my experience of school teaching that was largely the reason I was drawn to School Chaplaincy. In my ministry, I’ve never really stopped teaching – and neither have you, I’m sure. As I’ve learned (and continue to learn) how to teach, I’ve been helped and guided by superb pracitioners of this art, around me, and in my past. For example, my high school Indonesian teacher, Mrs Jane Jacobs.
She was enthusiastic about her subject, and enthused us as well – even those for whom Indonesian made as much sense as double Dutch. Her teaching philosophy wasn’t just about learning a language, but also involving that language and its culture in everyday life. So we melted wax in electric frypans to make batik T-shirts. We cooked nasi goreng and other Indonesian staples – to eat for lunch; or to take up the road to sell at the local shopping centre! We played traditional wooden music instruments (gamelan), made ‘shadow puppets’ (wayang kulit); and so it went on.Mrs Jacobs taught us the Indonesian language, yes; but we learned much more – about the people, the places, the politics of the country.
You’ll have your own stories of educators in schools you’ve been at, whose life and practices have shaped you, both consciously and unconsciously, to follow their examples. You may well be one of those that others follow! And then, of course, for us all there’s also the quite well-known ‘Rabbi’ (or ‘Teacher’), named Jesus. Granted, there weren’t Anglican schools like ours in his time – and any educational experience He gained was ‘on-the-job’. But he was acknowledged as a Rabbi of some note. In the Gospels he’s given that particular title more than 50 times.
After again delving into John Shortt’s ‘Bible-Shaped Teaching’, I’ve been stirred to reflect upon what sort of educational model Jesus gives us as a “Teacher” – not simply by copying what He taught (as if we could!); but more in how He taught, and how those principles that Jesus demonstrated might shape my own teaching: in the classroom, in Chapel, and any other context?
Here are some of Jesus’ approaches to His work as a teacher. It’s probably not all that surprising that most of them are found in the excellent teaching given to me by Mrs Jacobs all those years ago; and in similarly inspirational colleagues with whom we serve at our respective schools today. These aren’t earth-shattering methods; but they have helped me refocus the way I seek to teach and model the truths of God’s Word in my Chaplaincy, in what can be the toughest ministry setting of all: the school classroom:
Jesus’ Teaching Was Grounded In Everyday Life
It was grounded in the world and lives of those He was teaching, using the everyday objects, events and experiences that were part of their lives. Oil lamps, weddings, feasts. Seeds and farming, fig trees and vineyards. Fishermen and fishing; shepherds and lost sheep.
Not only this, but Jesus also lived out what he taught in the context of everyday life; whether it was in being a guest at a dinner table, or doing the task of washing feet that was part and parcel of entering a house – as much as taking off one’s shoes can be when entering a house today.
It Was Appropriate For Those He Taught
‘Differentiation’ is something of a current buzzword in teaching and pedagogy. For Jesus, it was a natural and vital part of the way he taught.
His approach was appropriate and thus different for each person: from a member of the Jewish ruling council (Nicodemus); to a social outcast and Samaritan ‘foreigner’ (the woman at the well) in the very next chapter of John’s Gospel. Whether Sadducee or child or centurion, Jesus began where people were – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. He began with the issues that concerned them and the questions that they asked. He draws out the expectations behind their questions, and then takes it further…
His Teaching Provoked Thought
Jesus doesn’t simply give people answers; he gets them to work out the answers for themselves. Puzzling them with parables; using simple language with layers of meaning. Sorting out those who wanted to go a bit further, from those who wouldn’t. Asking questions constantly to lead people to truth.
His Teaching Was Memorable
Jesus used rhythm and repetition; vivid imagery to put pictures in the mind. Humour; riddles; hyperbole. All designed to imprint the teaching in the memory! Wild exaggerations like camels going through the eyes of needles; or those who don’t see a plank in their own eye. An idiot who’d try to tempt pigs with pearls. And the list goes on…
His Teaching Was Motivated By Love
He appeals to the whole person, not just the mind. He’s authoritative, without being authoritarian (such a hard balance to find at times!). He doesn’t condemn, but calls for change where it is warranted.
As God’s Son, Jesus naturally had, and has, an authority that none of us can claim. Nonetheless, there are many things that I find myself called to consider from the example of Jesus the Teacher, who calls us to ‘take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart’ (Matthew 11:29).
Things like grounding our teaching in our students’ everyday life, to help them to look at their lives in God’s world from His perspective.
Differentiating the individuals under my care, helping them to know who they are and the value of their God-given identities as uniquely created image-bearers of Him, given the capacity to question and discover the truths about our Creator’s world and how best to live in it.
Being motivated by the love of my Master Teacher from Whom, each day, I seek to learn, as I teach about Him.