To teach is to learn — from by Robert Schoone-Jongen


…here is tonight’s Top Ten Things Student Teachers Teach Me:

  1. To be a teacher is to be a student, a learner. A teacher cannot just pour out knowledge on students. A teacher needs to learn from the students in order to teach them. Your students are the best methods book you will ever read. Listen to what they will teach you every day.
  1. Each class consists of two parts: what went right and what went wrong. Being a teacher and a student means living with both successes and failures. During each class we learn something new about students, subjects, and our selves as teachers.
  1. Each class is another chance to get things right. All our advance planning must be proven in the fiery furnace heated by real students. In our teacherly minds we may have covered all the bases, but the students likely will exhibit different thought patterns. The big question of the day might get the lesson off ground, but the students determine the actual flight plan and landing pattern–be it a smooth one or a swim in the Hudson River. You and I may be in the cockpit, but we can’t control the wind swirling around us. Serendipity is the order of the day in a classroom, not stolid stability.
  1. The students are the most important thing in the room. These individual image bearers of God, his precious jewels in the words of an old hymn, come to us in various grades–some highly polished gems, others very rough hewn. They all have one overriding need: the guidance of a responsible adult, you, their teacher. Despite all the technological doodads and wizardry–the stuff computer companies equate with effective teaching — students still need you, a living, breathing, three dimensional human being, to provide the companionship no silicon chip and flat screen will ever provide.
  1. You and me, those breathing human beings in the front of the room, are not super heroes, but fallible people with limited abilities and vast weaknesses. Chronology and a state-issued certificate separates us from our students. That has its advantages, but also its weaknesses. We may have accumulated more of what only experience can provide, but our age also renders us exotic in the eyes of our students.
  1. Our humanness requires maintenance–both physically and spiritually. Without a healthy you, students will see just a sick teacher. Physical maintenance is not optional. The students deserve our best effort, and we owe them more than mere endurance. My informal teachers, the student teachers, remind me every semester that sleeping and eating and exercising are what keeps our heads on straight, and our feet firmly planted underneath, from the first bell of the day until the last.
  1. Spiritual maintenance constantly reminds us to be humble about running a class. Each time we teach, thousands of words pour forth, and hundreds of instant calculations determine our vocabulary, our inflection, and our reception. A spiritually-maintained teacher prayerfully acknowledges that the torrent of words cascading through the room will carry rocks that can bruise students, and even scar them. We need divine purification to keep that torrent as a clean as possible, for the wisdom to know when a rock flew, and for the character to admit it and make amends.
  1. That never ending prayer should have a second petition–thankfulness for the blessing of being commissioned to mirror Christ’s love to another group of His image-bearers. You and I have the chance to show goodness and love to students, many of whom are unlikely to see those divine traits elsewhere. You can be Calvinistically proud when God entrusts you with being His messenger of light in the classes you teach. It is a precious gift to show students that despite all the wrong we see, the light does still shine in the darkness, even when it is very dim.
  1. That light is more than words and worksheets; it is the presence that students experience in your presence. Your reputation looms larger than your facility with the facts. Presence is the part of a class the students most likely will remember for years. In the end, what students really want from us are two simple things: to be treated justly and to be treated respectfully. The highest compliments–the evaluation that really matters–will come in two short sentences: one direct–“You were always fair”, the other left-handed–“You never made me feel dumb.” If students can say that, they have glimpsed the face of Christ in us.
  1. These student renderings of “Well done, good and faithful servant” are far more important, and more eloquent assessments of our teaching than all the numbers Pearson Corporation can tease from all the standardized tests inflicted upon students. Teaching’s essence cannot be measured by algorithms, formulas, or equations. God, and those image bearers in our classes will evaluate us by our faithfulness, not by the dots on a bubble sheet.