Even as I pen this column months in advance, I have not yet arrived--in Springfield that is--to assume my new responsibilities as Youth Consultant. In fact, at the time you read this, I'm still not there. Oh, I've been on the job for quite some time, but as a youth leader, Christian educator, consultant...I have still not "arrived." As a "student teacher," I trust I am not alone in my quest to learn. You see the moment we veer off the track as students, we lose most of our credibility and authenticity--not to mention our effectiveness--as teachers.
It is imperative for youth teachers to be students themselves, because the teen audience is more astute at exposing unpreparedness. They are indeed tough customers in the classroom (oh yeah, they get bored easy too). Great teachers ensure that what is presented to their class is worthwhile by making the most of time--in and out of the classroom--not only as teachers, but as students in several ways:
A Student of the Word
Teenagers question almost everything. True, they won't always speak up in the classroom, but when they do they are direct and want direct answers. The Bible has them. In a society that refuses to acknowledge absolutes the Bible confronts young people with the truth. Although today's student may not automatically accept the authority of Scripture, they will give attention to someone who knows what and why they believe. An avid student of Life's Textbook, whose views and perspectives flow out of personal grounding in God's word, need not be intimidated by a student's inquisitions. The teacher who loves and lives the Word will not lack relevance to the lives of students.
A Student of Effective Teachers/Leaders
Who has influenced you? How and why? Which leaders/teachers are making a positive impact on your students in and out of the church? Take time to discover how and why they connect with teenagers. What kind of questions do they ask? What structure and resources do they use? Find answers to these questions and adapt them to your situation. Read, listen, and apply the principles used by other great teachers, and regardless of your individual personality and style, you are likely to expand your influence and impact upon students.
A Student of Students
Your students are unique. What others are doing successfully is worthy of your consideration but you must still spend time getting to know your students--their perspectives and priorities in life. What are things like at home? At school? At work? You don't have to talk their language but what you say needs to be relevant. Jesus was effective with people from many walks of life because He taught in terms which related to their lives. Much of your relevance to students will stem from your relationship with them. To be ultimately effective, a teacher must step into their student's world, spending time with them outside of the classroom. Go to their school events. Do business where they work. Visit them occasionally and invite them into your home. Have fun with them. You don't have to be their best buddy, but don't be alien to the student's world. Take part in the significant elements of their lives, and you will become one of the significant influences upon their lives.
A Student of the Lesson
Youth teachers are notorious for bypassing structured curriculum. After all, more structure inevitably means less interest and excitement, right? You and I know better. Such a view usually indicates a bit of slothfulness on the part of the teacher. Curriculum will not make itself relevant and practical, nor will it adapt to your students without your touch. No curriculum will teach itself. Our own Radiant Life Curriculum is as solid as any available, but don't expect to get more than you put into it. Realize that good curriculum always has more content than needed and be willing to spend time editing and adapting the substance, language and activities to your class. Prepare for student interactivity. Gather illustrative items and tailor the practical application to your young people. Sure you can create your own curriculum if you have the knack, but it will take all of this time and more to be affective and have any degree of continuity. A quick perusing of the lesson the night before won't cut it. Students deserve more than the "Saturday nite special" if they choose to spend time in class on Sunday morning.
A Student of Resources
With all that is available to teachers--printed, audio, video, software, internet--on an infinite variety of subjects, a lesson need never lack illustrative content. It does, however, take time to sort through and discover what is Biblically solid and in depth. The supplemental material must also correlate with your lesson plan. Spend time in a Christian bookstore or resource center and investigate everything from programming and illustrations to parental involvement. You will gain fresh insight and get your own creative juices flowing more freely. With some experimentation you will be able to discern what relates well to your kids. Build a small library of activity and program resources and subscribe to a couple of youth ministry periodicals. Take advantage of what is available. There is something out there that will enhance your lesson, making the time you spend with your students more memorable.
A Student In Your Own Classroom
Take serious mental note regarding what has and has not been effective in your ministry times. What evokes the best student interaction? The past is not always indicative of what will be effective down the road, but don't persist in doing what has proven to be ineffective and expect better results. Your kids' responses will indicate what is getting through to them. Learn what works for your unique situation by taking cues from your own class.
A Student of Prayer
One must be a student and practitioner of the Master's teaching. Attention to all other areas will render a lesson spiritually ineffective and powerless in the lives of students unless time is spent in God's presence, listening for His direction. Even so, prayer covers a multitude of inadequacies--providing one has been faithful with their time, ability and resource. Pray for favor with students, for personal creativity and relevance of the teaching to your kids' lives. Ask God to apply the lesson to your own life and pray that He anoint it according to His plan. Prayer will give you a heart for an illusive generation of teenagers and help you understand what God is already doing in the lives of your students.
Show me a great teacher and I'll show you someone who is eager to learn--a student of God, other people and of resource. Do your best to ensure that who you are and what you present is relevant to your teens. As a student yourself you will gain credibility with, and relate better to, your students.
Written by Carey Huffman Copyright Gospel Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used with permission.