Perspective: Teachers also navigate between two worlds

Teachers have the unique challenge of making student learning relevant to the world in which we all live.

One might make the case that it’s the only real way to engage the students and keep them interested in school.

To do this, the teacher must bridge the gulf between what is interesting to students and the learning they need.

John R.W. Stott was a minister who wrote an insightful book that illustrated this quite profoundly.

Published in 1982, Between Two Worlds explained ministers should connect biblical teaching to the secular world in which their church members lived.

The pastor was portrayed as one who stands between the two worlds during the delivery of every sermon. The preacher’s message was to make a connection between the secular and the spiritual, between the biblical and practical.

Stott contended that being such a bridge between the two worlds required serious preparation, along with a deep understanding of both the secular and the sacred.

The model is helpful for schools. Teachers do not connect students between the two worlds that Stott wrote about, but to do their job well, they must connect students from that which is familiar and interesting to that which may be abstract and sometimes uninteresting.

Making learning relevant is the key.

The minister Karl Barth was once asked how he prepared his Sunday messages so they were relevant. He replied, “I take the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other.”

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The business of preaching is to relate the teaching of the scriptures to what is happening in our own day.”

To this day, many ministers take such admonitions seriously, based upon their conviction that people’s souls hang in the balance.

In education, teachers should take the same serious approach as they seek to make the curriculum relevant. For teachers, it is young minds that hang in the balance.

If portions of the curriculum are dry to the average 15 year old, we shouldn’t be surprised. But the most effective teachers are always looking for ways to connect their students to the learning.

Teachers must have tremendous levels of expertise in matters of curriculum, teaching strategies, learning objectives, assessment, content, classroom management, and important skill development.

But most of that means very little if the teacher doesn’t know how to link it to the world of the students.

Students will not naturally pursue the mature world of academics if the lessons are not meaningful and engaging. In fact, if students can only view learning as some abstract notion for adults, they instinctively avoid it.

But make it interesting, understandable, useful, and they’ll come back for more every day.

Church historians contend that one of the greatest preachers ever was Charles Hadden Spurgeon, who was a pastor in London during the 1800s.

Spurgeon wrote that the minister has a responsibility to connect with those in church during the Sunday morning sermon.

“With abundant themes diligently illustrated by fresh metaphors and experiences,” he said, “we shall not weary, but, under God’s hand, shall win our hearers’ ears and hearts.”

In schools everywhere, some students are failing. For every one who is failing, for everyone who wants to quit, we have an example of a student who has, for whatever reason, not been reached.

But if teachers can win their ears and hearts, their minds will follow, and their real education will begin.

David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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