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Lessons from the front

by Tim Clemens

I’ve just come to the end of my first year teaching high school scripture. What a year! With no previous teacher training I was officially dumped in the deep end. Here’s a few reflections on the practicalities of Scripture teaching that have helped me keep my head above water this year:

Face the Facts

As far as the kids are concerned, you’re a teacher. As someone with a youth ministry background it took me a while to admit it, but… “i’m a teacher”. Regardless of what you may want to think, any adult that stands in front of a class will be identified by every student in that room as teacher. Additionally, anyone on staff at a school is understood by students to be a teacher.

As I’ve discovered this has some important implications for Scripture teachers both inside and outside the classroom:

Respect is Earned and Never Given Lightly

Until students get to know you outside the classroom, you’re nothing more than a religious teacher. This means the default position of irreligious students will often be one of disrespect or at least disinterest. It’s important to keep in mind that that this is not necessarily the fault of the student, it is simply the way students think and feel about teachers they don’t know. As a result, it’s of utmost importance that the Scripture teacher work hard to gain the respect of students as quickly as possible.

The Scripture teacher is One Person With Two Natures

The Scripture teacher is simultaneously teacher and youth worker, and must work hard to balance both responsibilities at all times. In the classroom he is a teacher first and youth worker second. Outside of the classroom he is a youth worker first and teacher second.

Inside the Classroom

1. Due to the fact that students identify the Scripture teacher as a teacher, classes will in general need to follow normal class structure (like a Maths, English, or History class). This is more important than it sounds. The temptation for every Scripture teacher will be to move as far away from the ‘classroom’ vibe as possible so as to make the gospel seem most attractive. This intention should be encouraged, however not without some degree of restraint. The classroom is not a youth group and cannot be managed as one. Unfortunately, like their first parents, students often see in the freedom of a dynamic and interactive lesson an opportunity for evil, simply because they are not familiar with it.

2. Students expect teachers to implement discipline. They may not like it, but they expect it. Naturally, the temptation for every Scripture teacher will be to abandon discipline out of a fear that the students will not respect them. Oddly enough however, for students it works the other way round. A teacher who fails to discipline his students is not respected but laughed at, while a teacher with an orderly classroom is trusted and revered.

3. Despite these guiding principles the Scripture teacher is not only a teacher in the classroom, but a youth worker too. For this reason he must aim to lean into his other nature as much as possible. While classes need to be structured, they must also be as engaging as possible. And while students must behave, disciplinary straightjackets are usually not necessary. Even the manner in which the class is taught should communicate to students that the Scripture teacher is kind, compassionate and approachable.

Outside the Classroom

1. The Scripture teacher is a youth worker. This means he can get to know students and develop relationships with them on a level not possible for the average teacher. This might involve encouraging students to use his first name, joking around and playing with them, high-fiving them and much more. Students must know they can be real and authentic in front of the Scripture teacher without any fear of getting in trouble.

2. The Scripture teacher should also seek to share his own life including personal joys and struggles with students he develops relationships with (1 Thes. 2:8). In this he models the mature Christian life to students who may have no other godly influence.

3. Despite these guiding principles the Scripture teacher is not only a youth worker outside the classroom, but a teacher too. For this reason there are times where he will need to lean into his other nature, although he should try to do so as little as possible. Simply put, there are some things the Scripture teacher will be unable to tolerate in order to honour the trust the school has placed in him as a teacher (Rom. 13:1). For example, the Scripture teacher will need to report students if he becomes aware that they are in the possession of drugs, weapons or stolen items.

Unfortunately, the distinction between the two natures of the Scripture teacher can get blurred for some students. Naturally, those students with whom the Scripture teacher has a good relationship outside of the classroom will want to continue that into the classroom. This is helpful to a degree. Occasionally however, students will try to take advantage of this friendship and may even disrespect the Scripture teacher just to prove to the other students that they know him and can get away with it. The best solution is for the Scripture teacher to speak to that student on their own, explain the dual nature of his role, and request that in the classroom they relate to him as a teacher.

As I said, I was thrown in the deep end so i’m only just learning how to swim. Hopefully these principles will make your plunge a little smoother than mine!

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