A Few Principles for Effective Teaching

Successful teaching is not a plateau we reach but a lifelong climb across an ever-evolving landscape.

Students graduate, culture shifts, knowledge expands, personal experiences bring new joys and sorrows. Along our winding pilgrimage, various factors will constantly shift—both within and without—but certain elements must remain constant if we and our students are going to flourish in our endeavors.

Particularly, teachers must enter the classroom with a grounded sense of vocational calling, clear goals, and effective governing metaphors.

Personal Calling.

Personal calling is essential to teaching. This is not to say, like Samuel, we must hear the Lord calling out our name and summoning us to the blackboard in the watches of the night. Rather, teaching is a calling to share our very selves with students. We bring all of our experiences, knowledge, wisdom, love, virtue, and godliness to bear in our instruction. 

Teachers must cling to this truth: The reason I find myself in this classroom with these students with this curriculum on this day is because I have been created for this. God has placed these students here with me for their good, for my good, and for his glory. This deep sense of personal calling will help us navigate failures, avoid pride in success, and see our classroom as a part of a greater Kingdom.

Clear Goals.

It is this rootedness that helps an effective teacher establish clear goals. There are an infinite number of activities that can take place in school; whether those things are actually teaching cannot be determined without well-defined objectives. Teachers must survey the course material they have been tasked with covering, understand where they are meeting students in their educational journey, and prioritize the many good things that could take place under their tutelage.

A classroom with well-ordered goods will orient students toward becoming more like and treasuring most the All-Good One. 

Governing Metaphors.

Thirdly, effective governing metaphors help to ignite the imagination of both teachers and students. Employed well, metaphors can act like parables to help students understand what learning is like and provide concrete language to help teachers determine practical ways to strive toward goals.

At various times, Jesus himself characterized his relationship with his disciples using metaphorical language like leader and followers, vine and branches, master and servants, shepherd and sheep. Robyn Burlew has argued for master and apprentice as a governing metaphor in the classroom. Surely, teachers ought to be craftsmen in our own right—practitioners of the very methods, ideas, and subjects we aim to teach.

No one analogy will be a perfect fit for all circumstances, but overarching metaphors bring necessary coherence, clarity, and creativity to our endeavors. 

Fellow Pilgrims.

Part of the joy of teaching is realizing that like our students we, too, are pilgrims. God is sanctifying us according to his calling and equipping us for each leg of our journey. In one sense, we share the same teleological goals with our students—we just happen to be further down the path. As we appeal to various metaphors to inspire one another, our partnership in the faith builds fellowship and humility.

Even as we teach today, we must remember there was a time when we needed to be taught.

In our teaching we must remain teachable. As we get closer to the mountain’s peak, effective teachers will grow more and more comfortable in their calling, certain of their goals, and natural in their chosen metaphorical relationships, but they will ultimately grow more and more content with the journey’s end: “It is enough for the student to become like his Teacher” (Matthew 10:25).

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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