Is there a recipe for good teaching in Christian schools? What does it take to be an effective teacher? Ask a dozen people and you are likely to get at least a half-dozen answers. Yet the more you watch good teachers, the more you notice four consistent traits. I sometimes refer to each of these as a well of knowledge and skill. As such, there are four wells of knowledge and skill that we can dig to grow as educators in Christian schools.
The Content Well
It doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about the subject that you are teaching. In fact, knowing the subject and/or having skill in an area that you are teaching allows you to be a more effective coach. Growing levels of knowledge and expertise in an area allows you to notice nuances and important distinctions that others miss. This can be useful as you consider how to help students develop new knowledge and skill in that area. This is true whether you are teaching history, English, math, biology, government, physical education, choir, or pretty much anything else.
The Christian Scriptures Well
While knowing your content is good and important, that is not enough for teaching in a Christian school. We also recognize the importance of studying and learning from God’s Word, which is useful “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). As the psalmist writes, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Whether we are teaching math or history, English or physical education, as we develop a deeper knowledge of God’s Word, we will find ourselves better equipped to help students see how God’s Word sheds light on the other subjects we study. This is not to say that we promote some contrived Christian math where 2+2=Jesus Loves You, but it does mean that we invite students to consider how math can be used to help or harm our neighbors. And as we explore different literature, history, or current events, we can help students consider how God’s Word might give us important insight on these matters. But without digging a growing well of knowledge about God’s Word, we will find such a task difficult or impossible.
The Student Well
It is also important to get to know our students, both individually and as a group. For example, getting to know them as a group may reveal common traits of students in certain age ranges, and this can guide us as we try to determine the best and most appropriate times to study or explore given topics. Yet we also take time to learn about the individual students. What do they know or not know about what we plan to teach? What are their beliefs, values, interests, fears, concerns, and more? As we learn about each student, we will find it easier to teach in a way that helps individual students. As God is the all-time knower of all people, we embrace the opportunity to at least be the sometimes knower of some people, namely the young people that He places in our classrooms.
The Teaching Possibilities Well
Finally, knowing these first three, it is helpful to dig a deep well of teaching possibilities, methods, and strategies. This will help us to design engaging and interesting lessons that best fit what and who we are teaching. We can turn to project-based learning, small-group teaching and learning, game-based learning, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, Socratic teaching, discussion-based learning, collaborative learning, storytelling, the rotation model of blended learning, and many others. We consider the benefits and limitations of each and draw from this well of possibilities to determine what is best in a given context.
Good teaching is not a destination. It is something that we pursue throughout our lives as educators. We grow as we dig these four wells of knowledge and skill. We learn more about what we are teaching. We study the Scriptures and their implications for what we are teaching. We learn and relearn about each student whom God places in our classes. We also persistently learn about the many possibilities for how to teach. Together, these four “wells” become important ingredients in our goal of teaching students and serving families in Christian schools.