Beyond Letter Grades and Lesson Plans

Learning and teaching are about the in-between parts.

"She's so intelligent," says a father or mother wistfully. "If only she'd do her homework." 

Or, "He's so smart, despite his illegible handwriting. Well, thank goodness for keyboarding classes!"

Or another: "His hair is always a mess, and he smells, but my! what a genius."

From a different angle, I remember with great fondness certain university classes or lectures in which the speaker was doing his best impression of Ben Stein in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," relying heavily on PowerPoint, and not at all heavily on vocal inflection. The content of the lectures was good, very substantive, but it was all I could do to stay awake. "He's such an acclaimed professor," I said to myself wistfully. "If only he'd make this interesting."

In short, good teachers and good students focus on the in-between parts: they don't just execute tasks, they fully embody their roles.

For teachers, this means they do not download information onto their students hard drives, straight-faced. They do not stand in front of the classroom and read straight from the textbook. They do not focus exclusively on their lesson plans and their handouts, and they do not use their voices like sedatives, or like clubs, as though their audience is hostile. Instead, they teach the in-between parts of a subject: they communicate information to minds that they know also come with hearts. They require verbatim memorization of textbook terms, but they first make those terms come to life, because all terms represent magical realities. They use lesson plans and handouts with great joy, because they know God is a God of order, and that therefore their students need order. They discipline with love, whether with lines or reprimands or office visits, because they know that God disciplines those he loves, and because they love their students as human beings made in the image of God, and who are being refined by fire and water for excellence.

For students, this means they do not measure their intelligence by a letter grade, but by their faithfulness in all duties, including regular homework. They do not think certain subjects are more important than others, as though poor handwriting and bad grammar are excusable as long as they "get the right answer." They do not think that personal habits, particularly personal hygiene, are irrelevant as long as they are math and science whizzes. Instead, they study with a sense of responsibility, knowing that simple obedience to a duty is part of learning, even if they already know the concept. They know that a job half done is a job not done, and so they do not accept poor penmanship or incomplete sentences, even if they nail the correct answer every time. They take pride in their appearance, since they know that etiquette and hygiene within the classroom are expressions of love, and of the golden rule.

Good teachers and students know that there is a deeper right than being right, and so they live and act with a healthy pride, and a great deal of thankfulness. They accept nothing less than excellence and the best they can possibly do -- and then they fill in everything in between: doing the right thing when nobody's looking, obeying simply and without questions, and loving their neighbors as themselves.

And as always, God will take care of the rest.