Friday, August 28, 2009

I Love Passing Buckets (Some Thoughts on Teaching)

I suppose it's not too unusual an observation to say...that I really like teaching.

But I hope I can always say with equal honesty that I really like being taught as well. For a basic premise of Christianity is that truth is external to us. We didn't invent it. We didn't even, as it is so frequently misstated, discover it; that is, it wasn't a result of our own searching efforts.

What we do is receive truth.

By an act of our will, we receive truth as it is revealed to us by observation of the world and by believing that which is revealed to us by someone else. The good teacher never forgets that he is just one bucket-handler in the line, taking it from someone's hand and then passing it to the next. And though each bucket handler is important, what is more important is the process itself and ultimately, of course, what's in the bucket.

So I really like teaching in that I enjoy that thrill of passing along the buckets that I've received from so many over the years – parents, teachers, coaches, preachers, books, friends (even enemies), nature and so many more.

But it is those revelations from my study of Holy Scripture that I love most to teach because the process involved there is nothing less than the changing of lives – forever.

I mused on these things yesterday morning in between the two classes I taught down at Grace University. I was filling in for a friend who had to preside at a funeral and so I went in with the limited expectation that every substitute teacher should. But things went swimmingly. The course was hermeneutics which I have a passion for and which I've taught myself for many years. And the text chapter I was covering was good. The students were alert, respectful and prepared.

So, 1) when I know my stuff, 2) when the information is interesting as well as important, and 3) when the next bucket carriers in the line are ready to receive it – I love teaching.

But teaching is very hard whenever any one of those three are out of whack.

The third I can't do a whole lot about. People need to be responsible for their own education. They must be willing to learn. And a breakdown on the second certainly isn't an issue for the Holy Scriptures are always intriguing, life-changing, wise and relevant.

But it's that first element that is my responsibility. I must be as fully prepared as I can be – and that means not only that I've done my homework well and that I've planned out my presentation – but also that I demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit in my performance. The good teacher must be a good person: virtuous, caring, humble and patient.

And that brings me back to my original point. All good teachers must be good learners. They must be as excited about being a student (throughout their entire life) as they are about their opportunities to teach. They must seek out wisdom. They must give that quest all they have to give.

And they must strive to be the kind of learners that they themselves want in their audiences when they teach. If they are, then life-changing learning will occur, no doubt about it. The buckets will be successfully (and happily) passed.