Traditional Teaching Skills of Jesus


Our Lord Jesus Christ is addressed as “Teacher” twenty-nine times in the Gospels. The noun (teacher) and verb (teach) combined are used of Jesus about ninety times. Christ’s teaching was informative, logical, buttressed by Old Testament evidence, well-illustrated, documented by divine power, original, and peculiarly authoritative (Matthew 7:28). When officers once were sent to arrest him, they returned to their superiors empty-handed, exclaiming: “Never man so spoke” (John 7:46). It was obvious that Jesus spoke with grace, power, majesty and eloquence. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, acknowledged that Jesus was “a teacher” from God, as documented by the “signs” which he did (John 3:2). Even Jesus’ enemies addressed him as “Teacher” (Matthew 22:16, 24), though their use of the expression was not always genuine. There are rapid developments in teaching that are being propelled by social and technological changes. It is in teachers’ interest to update themselves with these developments as the acquisition of new teaching skills will pay dividends in the productivity of students. The skills needed to be a great teacher may have evolved over the years but we will soon discover that the basic teaching skills of our Lord are still the foundation of traditional teaching skill which every teacher should imbibe. The Lord’s various methods of teaching beg for careful study and we shall now go ahead to examine ten teaching skills of Jesus which every teacher ought to know.

  • Commitment: Commitment is defined as a willingness to give your time and energy to something that you believe in, or a promise or firm decision to do something (Cambridge Online Dictionary). Jesus was certainly a committed teacher who gave his all for the sake of the gospel. It is essential that teachers are committed to their work and to the education of young people. There are many scenarios today where people who hate teaching have forced themselves into classrooms, in a bid to avoid unemployment. Teaching requires love and a large measure of commitment to impart knowledge to others. Even at the tertiary education level, we tend to see students who have little or no interest in teaching, reading education as a major. The common excuses these education undergraduates brandish is that education was the last resort offered to them by the institution and JAMB (for those in Nigeria). Having an education degree when you’re not committed to imparting knowledge will result in a dispassionate teacher without enthusiasm. The responsibility that lies in the hands of the teacher is enormous. A teacher must always be aware of this and be truly engaged in their profession like Christ was in his teaching ministry.
  • Preparation: Jesus as a top teacher was always a prepared. No one ever caught him off guard. His preparation was found in the place of intense prayer and communion with the Holy Ghost (Luke 5: 16). That was why no one could embarrass him. Can you imagine a teacher who knows less than his pupils or students! The gospel setting in Mark 12:13-17 shows Jesus’ opponents trying to manoeuvre him into a corner by asking him the controversial question of whether the Jews were allowed, by their law, to pay taxes to the Roman occupiers of their country. The aim of their question was to trap him. If Jesus replied that they ought to pay the Roman tax, he (Jesus) would be accused of betraying his own people and collaborating with Israel’s enemy. On the converse, if he replied that they should not pay the tax, he would be denounced to the Romans as a troublesome rebel. Jesus was well aware of what his opponents were up to and knew how to handle them. The annual poll tax on all adults was one denarius, equivalent to a day’s wages, and it had to be paid in Roman coinage. So Jesus asked his enemies to show him a tribute coin. When they had handed one to him, he asked his enemies whose head and title were on the coin, and they had to reply that it was Caesar’s. Whereupon Jesus said, “Well, then, if it is Caesar’s, give it back to Caesar. And give to God what belongs to God.” The Bible tells us that his enemies went away baffled because there was no answer to that. A true teacher should leave his students marvelling at his wisdom and it comes with the preparation of study notes and putting everything in order.

Another instance of a teacher who was well prepared for what his class had to offer was in the gospel of John 8: 1-11, the passage recounts the episode of the adulterous woman in two vivid scenes: In the first, we witness a dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees concerning a woman caught in adultery who, in accordance with the prescriptions of Leviticus 20: 10, was condemned to stoning. Those men ask Jesus to judge the sinful woman in order “to test him” and impel him to take a false step. Indeed, the hypocritical accusers pretend to entrust the judgement to him whereas it is actually he himself whom they wished to accuse and judge. The pitiless accusers of the woman, citing the Law of Moses, provoked Jesus. They called him “Didáskale” (“Teacher”) asking him whether it would be right to stone her. They were aware of his mercy and his love for sinners and were curious to see how he would manage in such a case which was obvious according to Mosaic Law. Their intent was to portray that his teaching on God’s merciful love contradicts the Law which punished the sin of adultery with stoning. Their supposition was that if he absolved the woman caught in flagrant adultery, it will be said that he has transgressed the precepts of Moses. On the other hand, if he condemned her, it would be said that he is inconsistent with his message of mercy and grace towards sinners. The great teacher did not initially respond to their question but remained silent. His silence was probably an invitation to all present there to self-reflection and evaluation. Thereafter, he invited the woman to acknowledge the wrong she had committed while inviting her accusers not to shrink from an examination of conscience:  “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8: 7). His authoritative reply shows that it is only the Lord who can judge, it reveals the true meaning of divine mercy, which leaves open the possibility for repentance and emphasizes the great respect for the dignity of the person, which not even sin can take away. “Go, and do not sin again” (John 8:11). Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with his interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law. He was not concerned with winning a legal/academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but his goal was to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God’s love.

Today’s teachers have to emulate Jesus and be prepared. A passionate teacher is more often than not, a prepared teacher. A teacher must always be prepared before entering a class. A prepared teacher will know how to manage his class and effuse respect. A teacher shouldn’t just come into the class and start teaching without getting involved with the students. A teacher should also have fun with the students. The students learn faster when they feel attracted to an exciting lesson. The better prepared you are as a teacher, the more effective you’ll be.

  • Organisation: Organisation is akin to preparation. It is the action or process of planning and arranging something (Macmillan Online Dictionary). In Mike Murdock’s book, “The Double Diamond Principle: 58 Success Secrets in the Life of Jesus,” the author asserts at pages 25-26 that:

Champions plan. Your plan is a written list of arranged actions necessary to achieve your desired goal. ‘Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it’ (Habakkuk 2:2). Planning is the starting point for any dream or goal that you possess. ‘Jesus planned your future. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would not have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.’ (John 14: 2). God planned the birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection of His Son before the foundation of all the earth. ‘And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship Him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13: 8). I think it is quite fascinating that God would schedule a meal, the marriage supper, six thousand years ahead … Jesus taught the rewards of planning (Luke 14: 28-31).”

How was the church born? After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and instructed them for 40 days, after which he ascended to heaven. While with them, he said: “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). That first baptism of the Spirit would be the birthday of the church. In other words, the birth of the church was well planned and organised.

The National Policy of Education states that “no education system can rise above the quality of teachers in the system” (FGN, 2006). An uncertified teacher cannot prepare students for external examinations because it is unlikely that they could pass. Perhaps the first step towards organising for an effective teaching career is the acquisition of relevant certificates depending on the tier of education in issue. In Nigeria now, it is common knowledge that the Teacher’s Grade II Certificate and even the National Certificate of Education (NCE) are certificates that have been relegated to the primary level of education. Teachers in secondary school are now expected to have minimum qualifications of first degrees and even Masters. A certification in education is now often required to qualify as a teacher. Get these certifications as a foundation to getting organised. Organised teachers know how to set up rules in the classroom. A teacher shouldn’t just come into the class and started teaching without organising the class. Organisation means there is proper accountability on the part of the teacher; follow up on assignments and the strength of every student, and the creation of a relaxed but disciplined teaching atmosphere, permitting students to have fun during the learning process. Students learn faster when they feel attracted to an exciting lesson. A teacher must know how to convey important information to students effectively. They must know the way to teach students so that the students understand what they have learned. The teacher must thoroughly understand and appreciate a subject first before seeking to teach same. Besides, all materials needed for teaching must be completed before entering the class. Good organization and the planning in advance are key factors for success. Students can tell a poorly planned class from a mile away and once they realise the teacher isn’t putting in the best effort, neither will they.

  • Tolerance: Jesus was tolerant of sinners, but not of sin and hypocrisy. Sinners loved being around Jesus. In spite of their transgressions, Jesus not only tolerated being with them, but he seemed to enjoy their company. However, he didn’t tolerate the sinners’ sin, always telling them to “go and sin no more” in different ways and in different situations. Ultimately, his death on the cross proved that he would not tolerate their sins in the long term for He died to provide all sinners a way out. Jesus was not perceived as tolerant by the Pharisees. He incessantly rebuked them every chance he could. He consistently used them as an example of how not to serve God. Imagine the seven “woes” he unleashed on the scribes, teachers and religious leaders of his time (Matthew 23).

Teachers are called to be tolerant like Jesus was. In an increasingly diverse and multicultural society, it is necessary for teachers to manage any prejudices they may have and to treat all their students equally without showing favouritism. In secular countries, a teacher does not have the privilege of condemning sin except on the basis of morality and the school rules. A teacher who treats another student preferentially because the student originates from his ethnic group or religion has missed the respect of other students observing his favouritism. Furthermore, it is a very important teaching skill not to impose your world view on your students; instead, you should openly discuss topics and let students decide for themselves.

  • Story Telling: Jesus was the best communicator who ever walked this planet. His most common form of teaching was by the telling of stories; parables with imagery and characters are taken from the daily life of the people around him to illustrate his message. By employing numerous parables, Jesus created a hunger for truth in the hearts of the people. Today, this modus is still relevant. Storytelling is still an effective way to reach hungry hearts. Telling stories is a powerful way to stir hearts and imaginations and to pass on key information from one generation to another (folklores). Today’s teacher must develop the storytelling skills for it remains one of the best ways to teach and transfer ideas. The best teachers have used this method in their classes for centuries. Teaching a lesson by incorporating storytelling techniques is a fantastic teaching skill to develop for the classroom. Utilizing it leaves your class wanting to find out what happens next. An engaged class is the best way to increase participation, collaboration and better performance of students.

 

  • Open to Questions: I beg to quote extensively from David L. Mckenna’s book, “The Psychology of Jesus: The Dynamics of Christian Wholeness,” published by W Pub. Group. It’s a lengthy quote but definitely worth the read. Chapter 9 of the said book (pages 143- 155) goes thus:

 

“JESUS WAS called Rabbi — master teacher — by both friends and enemies. He earned the title, not by formal education, but by the clarity and authority of his teaching. Unlike many rabbis, Jesus added the vigour of his spirit and the reality of his experience to make learning come to life; yet he did not teach by whimsy. He led his disciples through a planned process that resulted in intellectual as well as spiritual insight. Jesus, the teacher, is a worthy subject for study in an age dominated by education as an agent for social change and personal growth.

 

A MOBILE CLASSROOM

One example of Jesus’ teaching is his walk to Emmaus with Cleopas and a friend on the day of the resurrection. Seven miles of dusty road separated the two cities. Assuming that a ‘conversational mile’ on a hot day takes at least twenty minutes to walk, the seminar must have lasted two or more hours. The two men were heading home after three days of waiting for their Master to return from the dead. As disciples of Jesus, they were absorbed in a thoughtful conversation about the events of the past few days. Their surprise companion and visiting lecturer was Jesus himself. At first, they did not know him; so with the advantage of anonymity, Jesus led them through a full cycle of effective learning. In case-study from, this educational experience adapts itself to a running commentary on the dialogue between the teacher and his students as written in Luke 24: 13-35.

 

THE CASE STUDY

Text: “Then on the same day we find two of them going off to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they went they were deep in conversation about everything that had happened.”

Interpretation: Three conditions for effective learning are present. First, the men were engrossed in open, personal communication, not in an artificial classroom setting where forced feeding takes place. Second, they were totally involved in the dialogue as they walked, talked, and reasoned together. Third, Cleopas and his friend were frustrated because their knowledge was uncertain, and their patience was exhausted. In effect, they were asking the primary question. How can I know what I think until I feel what I do?

Text: “While they were absorbed in their serious talk and discussion, Jesus himself approached and walked along with them, but something prevented them from recognizing him.”

Interpretation: Good teaching begins with good listening. Rather than choosing a dramatic confrontation, Jesus just fell into step as an interested partner in an animated conversation.

Jesus: “What is all this discussion that you are having on your walk?”

Interpretation: Jesus immediately perceived that the motivation for learning was present, but wanting to build in them a reasoned faith, he remained anonymous. With the stroke of a master teacher, he asked two interrelated questions: “What are you talking about?” and “Why are you feeling so sad?” In so doing, he asked to share their feelings as well as in the substance of their conversation.

Text: “They stopped, their faces drawn with misery.”

Interpretation: Not unexpectedly, a teacher who begins with questions at the point of the students’ needs wins full attention.

Cleopas: “You must be the only stranger in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard all the things that have happened there recently!”

Interpretation: Cleopas’ response to Jesus’ leading question about the facts was one of surprise and mild skepticism. It was as if he said, “Where in the world have you been?” Also, he was not yet ready to let this stranger know his feelings until he knew his intentions.

Jesus: “What things?”

Interpretation: Jesus still refused to let the focus of attention shift to himself. Rather, with tongue in cheek, he pleaded innocent by asking another open-ended question. In Socratic style, he led the learners along in order to stimulate self-learning and develop a climate of trust in which they would share their feelings with him. No teaching device is more effective for tapping the growth potential of students than questions that cannot be answered yes or no.

Cleopas or Friend: “Oh, all about Jesus from Nazareth. There was a man — a prophet strong in what he did and what he said, in God’s eyes as well as the people’s. Haven’t you heard how our chief priests and rulers handed him over for execution and had him crucified? But we were hoping he was the one who was to come and set Israel free . . .”

Interpretation: An extended response was the reward for Jesus’ patience. The men indicated that they had some important facts in hand which became more objective as they related them to Jesus, but behind the substance of their knowledge were some overpowering feelings of doubt. Twice in this response, they said, “Yes, but . . .” which actually meant no. First, after citing the reputation of Jesus as a prophet and teacher, they said, “But we were hoping he was the one who was to come and set Israel free. . .”

Cleopas or Friend: “Yes, and as if that were not enough, it’s getting on for three days since all this happened; and some of our womenfolk have disturbed us profoundly. For they went to the tomb at dawn, and then when they couldn’t find his body they said that they had had a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of our people went straight off to the tomb and found things just as the women had described them — but they didn’t see him!”

Interpretation: Often, facts which are accepted intellectually become a misconception when feelings are added. The men had the pieces of truth about Jesus as the Messiah, but they still wanted him to be a social liberator. Second, they told how the women had reported the Resurrection: “But they didn’t see him!” Like Thomas, they were skeptics who had to be firsthand witnesses before they would believe.

Jesus, as a teacher, would be encouraged by their ambivalence because it meant that the men were now sharing with him the uncertainty of their knowledge and the depth of their despair.

Jesus: “Aren’t you failing to understand, and slow to believe in all that the prophets have said? Was it not inevitable that Christ should suffer like that and so find his glory?”

Interpretation: Staying with questions, Jesus responded to their feelings by showing that he had feelings too. Again, his disciples had missed the point of his teaching about the purpose of his life and death. His first impulse was to rebuke them, but then he caught himself, turned to a substantive question, and patiently began all over again.

Text: “Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them everything in the scriptures that referred to himself.”

Interpretation: In a complete lecture, Jesus relied again on his discipline in the Scriptures. Authoritatively, he traced each passage which addressed his identity and destiny. Then, inductively relating fact to fact, he drew a conclusion by synthesis that Jesus is the Christ and alive! Scriptural authority, a sense of history, and a logical conclusion was used to bolster the shaken faith of the disciples. Jesus’ return to the objectivity of this scriptural authority proved again his principles that the truth has the power to set men free and that feelings cannot be separated from facts in human learning.

Text: “They were by now approaching the village to which they were going. He gave the impression that he meant to go on further, but they stopped him with the words, ‘Do stay with us. It is nearly evening and soon the day will be over.’ So he went indoors to stay with them.”

Interpretation: Typically, the former lecture ended before the learning process was complete. Jesus had won the confidence and whetted the curiosity of the men even though they still did not know him. As an interim check on the progress of his teaching, Jesus pretended to be going beyond Emmaus. The invitation to dinner came, not just as an expression of Mideastern hospitality, but as the desire of the men to continue their conversation with a knowledgeable and encouraging companion.

Then it happened! While he was sitting at the table with them he took the loaf, gave thanks, broke it and passed it to them. Their eyes opened wide and they knew him!

Interpretation: Dinner with Jesus was more than an event; it was an experience. The men had been face-to-face with him for more than two hours; they had walked with him, answered his questions, and listened to his lecture. Yet they did not know him until he gave them the symbol of the broken bread.

A symbol is a problem-solving device that helps students pull the cognitive, affective, and volitional parts of learning into unified meaning. It’s a Gestalt that produces the “Ah, ha” of a new insight. Using bread, the symbol of his death, and resetting the scene of the Last Supper, Jesus personalized the truth for them by joining his experience with theirs to arrive at conclusive proof.

Teaching that changes values and behavior almost invariably includes the personalization of the learning process through the mutual experience of the teacher and student.

Commonly, it is expected that the most effective learning requires a positive and satisfying stimulus. This is not necessarily true. Personal tragedy may represent the deepest and most pervasive expressions of the human condition. Therefore, it also holds the potential for insightful learning. Rather than protecting students from the tragic, a master teacher uses the experience for positive results.

Text: “But he vanished from their sight.”

Interpretation: Jesus’ part in the teaching-learning process was over. Sensitive to the situation, he knew when to leave in order to prevent knowledge overkill or emotional overdependence.

Cleopas: “Weren’t our hearts glowing while he was with us on the road, and when he made the scriptures so plain to us?”

Interpretation: The time had come for feedback and evaluation. When Cleopas knew the person, he also understood the process. Jesus’ skill in teaching was now attested by the student’s report that he “fired” their hopes and made the Scriptures plain. Master teachers are best remembered for their enthusiasm and simplicity.

In the process, Jesus changed their fears to hope. Certainly, the evaluation of a teacher’s skill should be the ability to discover a student’s level of motivation and raise it to a point of intensity where insight and integration become a possibility.

 

Text: “And they got to their feet without delay and turned back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven and their friends all together, full of the news — ‘The Lord is really risen — he has appeared to Simon now!’ ”

Interpretation: The final test of learning is the student’s ability to put knowledge into action. Cleopas and his friend turned around and went back to Jerusalem late at night. Once they were there, they told the disciples what they had learned and how they had learned it.

Text: “Then they told the story of their walk, and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.”

Interpretation: For their authority, they used the symbol of the breaking of the bread. This was the common point of identification that everyone had experienced. Under questioning, Cleopas and his friend could communicate what they had learned with the force of personal knowledge and the proof of a common symbol. For them, the learning cycle was complete as they now became teachers of what they had been taught.

 

CASE SUMMARY

Maturity — self-extension, self-objectification, and a unifying philosophy of life — applies to intellectual as well as spiritual development. In either case, wholeness is the goal. The faith in Jesus of Cleopas and his friend was contaminated with doubt because of their grief. Jesus’ first task was to get them to extend themselves by introducing long-range facts for short-term feelings. Then he had to help them objectify their knowledge by showing them the relationship between scriptural prophecy and his Resurrection. Once these goals were achieved, he could reveal himself as the living Christ with the power to unify their lives. The men of Emmaus were made whole because Jesus helped them extend themselves, understand themselves, and then give themselves to him as a person.

 

TEACHING BY SYMBOL

A curious contradiction exists between Jesus’ teaching of the men of Emmaus and his counselling with the woman at the well. She was untutored, and yet Jesus led her to understand some of his heaviest theological concepts. His tact with the men on the Emmaus road was equally unexpected. As disciples of Jesus, one would expect them to remember the promise of the Resurrection with just a jog of the memory. Instead, he walked them through an elementary process and brought them to understanding with a symbol that even a child could understand. Like the scholar-ruler Nicodemus, perhaps it is the religiously sophisticated who need to relearn the basics through symbols while the simple, unclogged sinner may be ready for advanced thinking.

Christianity has always been rich in symbols, not only as a sign of recognition among exiles but as teaching tools for children. During my college days, I remember the impression a professor made on me when he reported a study that showed that Roman Catholic students remained more faithful to their religion than either their Protestant or Jewish counterparts. One factor behind their loyalty was the meaningful role they experienced as children during mass. Even though the service was in Latin, they were active participants through the symbols of counting beads, kneeling to pray, making the sign of the cross, lighting the candles, and partaking of the bread and possibly the cup.

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JESUS’ PRINCIPLES OF TEACHING AND LEARNING

Practical knowledge of educational theory made Jesus a master teacher. As with his counselling, he taught instinctively, individually, and situationally; yet there is a discernible pattern at work in his encounter with the men of Emmaus. Some of the principles are so basic to learning theory that they appear a recitation of the obvious. Others, however, are so creative that they make the current innovations in education look like historical reruns. If Jesus had a theory of learning that could be induced from his walk and visit with the men of Emmaus, it would include these working principles:

Jesus, the teacher, has given us a learning experience on the Emmaus road that must be repeated again and again in homes, churches, and schools. Our task is to communicate truth through relationships of trust until hearts and minds are glowing under the enthusiasm of teaching and authority of truth. Then in a moment of insightful encounter, the Person of Jesus Christ must again be presented through the symbol of the broken loaf.”

From the above lengthy quote, it is needful for every teacher to have discussions and collaborations in class in order to encourage students and implement new teaching techniques. Teachers must be open to answering their student’s questions. Modern teachers listen to their students’ questions and answer them honestly as Jesus did. Whereas a teacher, you don’t know the answer to a question asked by your student, don’t waffle or brush the question off. Explain to your students that you will look into it and get back to them with a proper answer.

 

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