Jan 2009    

Lessons from the Master Himself

INDISPUTABLY, one of the great teachers – Christians would argue THE greatest teacher – was Jesus. What can we learn from Him about teaching?

Certainly we get some important clues from Him about the methods a teacher should employ.

He taught simply – with lots of illustrations. He peppered His teaching with down-to-earth stories (parables) to help His hearers understand.

He began from His hearers’ experience. So He told stories about a housewife cleaning her home, a woman cooking bread, a farmer sowing his field, a shepherd looking after his sheep, and a father with two very different sons, both of whom he loved dearly.

He addressed His hearers’ concerns. Much of His teaching was in response to their questions – Who is the greatest? What must I do to inherit eternal life? Who is my neighbour? Which is the greatest commandment? How should we pray?

He challenged His hearers. When He had told them a story (e.g. the parable of the Good Samaritan), he said “What do you think? Which of these men was the good neighbour?” He said to the people – Why are you so preoccupied with material possessions? He asked them “Where is your faith?”, “What do people say about me and what do you think of me?”

And Jesus practised what He preached. In the teaching that we call “The Sermon on the Mount” He set out the qualities of living that God expects – humility, sympathy for those who suffer, gentleness, a passion for righteousness, forgiveness, purity, peacemaking and a willingness to suffer for others – and He showed all these qualities fully in His life, even to the point of death.

But more importantly, Jesus demonstrates something fundamental to the art of teaching. Although He spent some of His time addressing large crowds, He concentrated upon just twelve disciples.

The word “disciple” comes from a Latin word meaning “to learn”. We can learn in many ways. Nowadays much of our learning is via the Internet, and certainly computers are a valuable resource for learning. But a disciple learns by being with a teacher, and gaining from the personal interchange, values and approaches to learning that cannot be picked up from a textbook or a computer programme. By being with a teacher, we can catch an enthusiasm for what we are learning, we can gain an appreciation of the wonder of what we are learning, and above all we can get a sense of the importance of what we are learning.

Although facts may be communicated impersonally, values are communicated by being with people who see their importance and show them in their lives.

There are important pointers here for the teacher, and at ACS we expect teachers to approach their teaching in the same way – teaching profound truths simply, beginning from the students’ experiences and concerns, and stretching and challenging them to reach a new understanding and gain a new vision.

We expect teachers to be people of integrity, who are an example to their students of good learning and good living. But above all, we expect teachers to be concerned about individuals, to encourage, help and support, and inspire and enthuse, and to share important values for life and learning.

At ACS (International), I am constantly thankful to God for the commitment of teachers to their students and for their willingness to spend time with individuals. Teaching is indeed a vocation. – ACS Echo.

The Rev Dr John C. A. Barrett is the Principal of ACS (International). He is also the Chairman of the World Methodist Council.


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