Teaching For Learning (XIV.]
We've said this before, but let's notice it again for emphasis. Teachers say to me, "How can I control my class? I spend most of the time trying to keep them quiet." My answer is always the same: "Why? Why keep them quiet?"
I'll admit that when I'm going to be out of town and ask someone to take my class, I make a half-hearted apology for the fact that they are pretty noisy. The reason for the apology is not to cover for the conduct of the class, but to make it clear that I haven't made much effort to teach them to keep quiet. Again, why should they be subdued over something as exciting as learning about God's laws and his desires for his people, and all the error that exists in the world and what is right and wrong for teenagers to do, and how do you lead singing and how is the best way to prepare a lesson to be given in the auditorium?
In our last several articles we have been discussing the importance of involvement. It isn't very convincing to say that a group of teenagers are involved in the lesson at hand when they are sitting quietly for at least half an hour without entering into the discussion, or feeling the need to challenge anything that has been said. It is almost a perfect rule that the amount of involvement is directly proportional to the amount of discussion going on in the class (and this includes the adults as well!). It isn't much to be proud of if you walk down through the halls of the classrooms and find things as quiet and as orderly as a tomb. Children, young people and to a large degree, adults, do not learn this way. They have learned to be quiet, but they may well have learned little else.
Let's make a point clear right here, before going on. Noise itself is not a guarantee of learning. No teacher can draw comfort just from the fact that he or she has a boisterous group of young people that is uncontrollable. Noise — just for noise's sake — shouldn't be the goal of any teacher. But on the other hand, if a careful survey of the end results shows that the group is learning what the objectives of the course stated should be learned, and also shows that the group comes on rather loudly in reaching of these objectives, then the noise may not be a very big problem.
The teaching of teenagers is a tricky thing at best, because so many factors come into play. Contrary to what many often say, it doesn't take a young person to teach and understand other young people, nor is it any more accurate to say that it takes an older person to be able to control this age. What many young people who try to teach others near their own age lose in respect and awe, they often make up their ability to relate to problems and language of the same generation. What older people lose in their inability to speak the language and hear the same drummer, they can make up in being able to apply wisdom to each situation. They can also bring to bear the knowledge of the scriptures they have gained over the years. But these things can work in reverse and it is a sad situation when this happens. Let's look at some examples that are familiar to all of us. There is the very fine young fellow who really relates with the younger people. He is friendly, exuberant and very likeable. He knows their problems because he isn't very far removed from having struggled with the same ones himself. He can talk with the young people and they listen. They tell him their problems and he helps to solve them. But something is missing. In his effort to keep the lines of communication open, he sometimes compromises his answers. He fails to know the scripture that prohibits or warns against certain practices. Most of all, he gets taken up in their social problems and begins to answer their questions from logic or opinion. They like this and come back for more. The class period always goes by rapidly, and the young teacher finds the class growing and his reputation spreading. From here, he begins to worry about their entertainment and may go the "social gospel" route: parties, get-to-gethers, special services just for the young people. Christianity becomes not studying the Bible, learning about religious error and how to combat it, but rather the advantages of getting together with other young people and getting their friends to "accept Christ" in the same manner as they have done. It may not go this far, but this is the danger, if there is no effort to relate to these young people in terms of the Bible.
Take another example: the very serious and devoted old gentleman who "likes children" (and to him "children" means anyone under 25 years old.) He is worried about the younger generation and is glad to have the opportunity to help guide these children along the proper path. He has a knowledge of the Bible unsurpassed by many and can quote scriptures for any occasion. The only trouble is that it doesn't take the teenagers long to know just what will trigger him off into a lecture on any one of many subjects. Without him knowing it, they are making fun of him and really haven't much respect for him or his wisdom. One or two ringleaders will ask the right question at the right time and off he goes. "Do you really believe the world was started like it says in the Bible?" The question is asked very seriously, and with intense interest. You know the results, as they sit back and snicker to themselves. He is so afraid he will not answer each question to its fullest, that he isn't able to turn the question back to them and challenge their thinking. He wouldn't dare take the negative side as a means of getting them on the defensive or making them think up an answer for themselves.
The point of all this is that regardless of the age of the teacher, there must be a recognition that the teacher is in authority, but will use this authority only when forced to: the class must know that anything (within reason) goes, providing they do their part in studying and learning the lesson at hand; the teacher must relate to the class without lowering himself down to becoming disrespectful of the church, the elders, the members or religion itself.
How do you relate to this age? It isn't anything magic, nor is it a gift that only a few possess. The trick is simply to appear to treat them as much older than they are, all the time remembering they are really children and are motivated by the same things that motivate those much younger than they are. They will play the same games and all that has to be done is to change the format. The beauty is that they are so much more capable of doing interesting things than their younger counterparts, that it makes the opportunities many times more available. It only takes a thin veil to cover up what is happening.
For instance, instead of having to make up the questions, the teacher lets the class divide into sub-groups and ask each other questions. Scores are kept in the usual manner. This can be made even more sophisticated by calling for a debate, and give each side time to answer questions and statements posed by the other group. There is no limit to the number of variations that can be tried and if the group is very large, then just form more than two sub-groups. But this age can make talks and needs the practice. The boys can make talks on the subject of the lesson or on special assignments. The girls can keep score and help to come up with a composite grade on the performance. They can also make a list of the scriptures that were used, and can be given points for thinking of additional verses that were not used.
The idea is that even at this age they like to compete and like to make high scores. But this isn't to say that all they want is fun and games. They have the capacity to think deep thoughts and do concentrated study. Above all, the competition should never appear to get in the way of the lesson or the learning. They can go for months without having played any games or kept any scores, and still be interested in what is being said and done. The teacher who can appeal to their serious side and not be afraid to let their lighthearted side show out every once in awhile, will have a good chance of succeeding where many teachers fear to even go. Many feel this to be most challenging age to teach; perhaps so, but it also is the most rewarding group when a successful job has been done!
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