Metaphors for Teaching

Christian educators often talk about biblical integration. Sometimes the discussion focuses on what we teach: ensuring that content points students towards a love of God and service of others. Sometimes it focuses on who we teach: recognizing the image of God in our students and how we can serve them. Other times it focuses on how we teach: encouraging practices of education that honor God and student. It can also be viewed as a question of who we are as teachers: what does it mean to be a Christian teacher?

Metaphors can help us explore different answers to this question. In his book Walking with God in the Classroom, Harro Van Brummelen examines different metaphors for who the teacher is. Christ was, of course, the great teacher and He exemplifies all of these models.

Teachers are facilitators. We do not produce education in a vat and hand it to students, but we help guide students to reach knowledge[1]. Educators that use the Socratic method of asking questions to get students to find answers for themselves will likely connect to this model. Christ often used questions to help people better understand God’s Kingdom. If you want to be a better facilitator, try a lesson of guided questioning to help your students discover truth themselves.

Teachers are story-tellers. Learning theory suggests that we can comprehend and use information much better when we can situate it in a story[2]. Van Brummelen says this model is especially useful for young students, who can comprehend even difficult material when it’s presented in a story[3]. Christ showed us this model when He spoke to us in parables, presenting God’s truth in a way simple mankind can understand. If you want to be a better story-teller, try opening a lesson with a story that incorporates the knowledge you’re going to teach in the lesson.

Teachers are stewards. We have been given a remarkable gift by God—our students—and we work to develop the potential within them[4]. Educators passionate about best practices and creative teaching methods will likely appreciate this metaphor. Jesus compared teachers of the Law to stewards who use both old and new material (Matthew 13:52). If you want to be a better steward, ask fellow teachers for different instructional strategies they use and maybe share some of your favorites.

Teachers are priests. We have authority over our students and a responsibility to lead them to righteousness[5]. As humans we have all sinned and education needs to be a place where broken people—ourselves and our students—move towards healing. As priests, teachers play a role in helping students that are causing pain and tension in the classroom towards repentance, bringing healing in our community. Christ is the Great High Priest and worked with man to bring God’s forgiveness to all who repent (Hebrews 4:14-16). If you want to be a better priest, start by modeling your own behavior as a person who seeks repentance after sinning and works towards restoration after forgiveness.

Teachers are shepherds. Like the facilitator, this model emphasizes teachers as guides, leading students towards the desired outcome. However a shepherd is able to use a rod and staff to help bring students to where they need to be, occasionally using discipline to help students grow not only as holders of knowledge but also as better models of Christ. The Lord is our Shepherd and leads us through both the highs and lows of life (Psalm 23). If you want to be a better shepherd, chat with some students about what is going on in their life outside the classroom and see if you can help them make Christ relevant to that situation.

There are many other great metaphors for teachers. Why not start a conversation with some colleagues about what metaphors best describe their teaching practice? That way as a community we can encourage each other to better integrate Christ not only into our lessons, but into our identity as teachers.

­David Christians
TeachBeyond, Europe/Eurasia

[1] Van Brummelen, Harro. Walking with God in the Classroom. 3rd ed. Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2009. pg. 36[2] Driscoll, Marcy. Psychology of Learning for Instruction. 2nd ed., Pearson, 2000. pg. 129[3] Van Brummelen, pg. 37.[4] Ibid. pg. 40.[5] Ibid. pg 41.

Photo Credits: Teacher. Pivot Learning via Shutterstock. May 2016. Facilitator. via Shutterstock. ShepherdAdamCohn Flickr via Compfightcc