Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 2, 1968

Teaching For Learning

Martin M. Broadwell

One question we have to keep asking ourselves is "Why do we teach the way we do?" This is an individual question, though, not a broad, generalized question to be answered by somebody else. In other words, when I go into the classroom or get up in front of an audience to teach, why is it I do what I do as a teacher? Is there a carefully thought out plan where I have decided that certain things ihould be done at certain times for the most effective learning? Do I choose to lecture at specific times, and at other times use the chalkboard or a chart or a map? Do I really have maximum learning in mind when I'm teaching?

There Are Reasons

There are reasons why we teach the way we do.

The reasons sometimes aren't valid; sometimes we get good results, even when we don't deserve it. Most of the time we never really know why we did what we did, nor if we were successful. But maybe if we looked at some of the reasons why people teach as they do we could better evaluate our own methods. The most obvious thing is that we imitate what others have done before us. Even though imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, few of us can succeed on just imitation alone. Somewhere our own selves must emerge. If our ways and talents differ from the ways and talents of the person we are imitating, then we have a serious problem. Let's consider some examples:

There are some who are able to keep the audience's attention by clever use of humor (note: clever), Teacher A had just such a teacher in a Bible class. This fellow told jokes, kidded around, and taught his subject well. But let's note an important point. It is quite possible for a student in Bible class to enjoy a class, to look forward to it and feel that it passes fast, without learning from it. Teacher A's instructor had mastered his technique; unless Teacher A can do likewise, he may fail as an instructor, although he may think he's doing a good job of imitating.

The timing, type, and extent of humor are all important. Not everyone can use it, and those who can't should leave it alone. It is easy to offend people in Bible study with humor. On the other hand, some of the most successful teachers and preachers owe much of their success to the wise use of humor. Proper use of humor can put the class at ease, especially at a touchy place in the lesson. It can serve as a means of transition from one topic to another, and emphasize important points, but it should never be used just for its own sake.

Teacher B had a Bible teacher who seemed to reduce everything to first principles, and was a very successful instructor. Teacher B decides to imitate this instructor. Two things may be against him: First, he may lack the ability to simplify the subject matter (and it may not even lend itself to this much simplification) When he tries, he merely adds confusion. Next, the audience may not need everything taken back to first principles. They may be able to take the "strong meat." Not only does he waste their time and his own, but he also loses their attention at a time when he may be covering something they really need.

Teacher C was most impressed by a college professor who taught his Bible class the way he handled his class at college — "Here it is, get it if you want it." Brother C had to really dig, and much of what went on was over his head, but there was no doubt that the instructor really knew his subject. Since Brother C likes this sort of challenge, he chooses to imitate his former teacher. But what kind of teacher will he really be? Can he stimulate the class to rise to the occasion and "dig it out?" Is the class able to do it? Can they learn better some other way? If Teacher C decides to imitate his old teacher without answering these questions, he will probably do the class a real disservice, and will most likely fail as an instructor.

Perhaps the saddest case is Teacher D. He had a very, very bad Bible teacher, but unfortunately, didn't realize it. So what does he do? He gets up and imitates a bad teacher. The results are obvious. But sadder still, most of us are very likely to be Teacher D! If we don't know what good teaching is, then we may well choose the wrong person as a guide to follow. If we can agree that a good teacher is one that produces a change in our actions, then we can find out whether a teacher is good or bad by seeing if our actions really change (or attitudes, habits, etc.). If we don't do this, we may misjudge a person and accuse him of being a good teacher, when in reality he's pretty bad. (We may even like him call him "good" — because he doesn't change our behavior!)

So imitation is not a guaranteed road to success. There are times when imitation works, just as humor works. If one teacher's technique is effective and another can use it with equally good results, then it should be copied. But there is no other good reason for imitation.

And More Reasons

There are other reasons why we teach as we do, and these, too, have their pitfalls, Without realizing it, we often are forced into a method not of our own choosing. We walk into a classroom, are handed a book and that's where we start. The classroom itself is "locked in," so to speak. The chairs are in rows, facing the front where there is a speaker's stand (probably not too steady), and a chalkboard. But in reality, even the literature may "lock" the teacher in. There are just enough True-False questions. Fill-in-the-blank questions, Multiple-choice questions, and Thought questions to use up the class time. So the time is already allotted; so much for each section, mostly just checking answers of those who studied. So what's wrong with this? Nothing, provided that's the way best suited for you. But suppose you excel in developing a subject with story-telling or by drawing it out of the class? If so, then you must be careful to see that the literature doesn't prevent you from doing what you do best.

There is perhaps one reason for teaching as we do that sums up all the rest: We tend to teach the way that is the easiest for us. We may call it the "natural" way, but it is probably just the easy thing for us to do. Remember, not all of us are "natural born" teachers (whatever that is), so if we just do what comes natural, we've got no guarantee of success. All of this simply says that there are many ways to teach, and several reasons why we teach as we do, but the best way is the method that works for us. That's the best reason for choosing it, also! What we fail to realize is that when we say that one person is a better teacher than another, we are really saying that his method, combined with his skill at using that particular method, is producing learning.

Teaching Is A Skill:

Time and again we must keep saying to ourselves "Teaching is a skill — teaching is a skill — teaching is a skill." We would not expect a person to get up and preach or lead singing without first having done some preparation on learning the job. Do we let a person go into a classroom without learning the job? (We're talking about learning the skill of teaching.")

Here's something to try between now and the time you read the next article in this series. Watch some teachers and see if they have any particular approach to teaching. Compare two or three and see if you can decide if one is better than the other, and see if you can tell why. Talk to them and ask them if they were conscious of using any particular technique. If you teach, ask yourself these same questions. Remember, it does make a difference how you teach. Have you tried to find out why you teach the way you do?

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