Recently, I’ve become very aware of the gift of teaching. Teaching and learning are always going on, between parents and their children, in what we learn from books and TV documentaries, in the daily work we do for our career. But I’ve found myself focusing on people who seem to have a special gift or calling as teachers. Some are working in the schools of our community; some are teaching children and adults in our churches.
Farley Peck was a public school principal and a member of the first church I pastored in Sharon, MA. One year she was the Director of our Vacation Bible School, and I volunteered to take on a challenging class of energetic nine to eleven-year-old boys. My strategy was to get these guys to like me and see me as their pal. They loved it. The put signs on the door, like “Van’s Clan” and “Girls Keep Out.” They were loud and rowdy, and I quickly lost control. No teaching or learning was happening in that class.
After a couple of days, Farley saw what was going on. At a particularly raucous moment, she walked across the hall toward our room. As she approached, the boys became quiet. She said, with a smile, “Is everything okay over here?” The boys said, “Yes, Miss Peck” That was that. The rest of the week, all she had to do was look over, and “Van’s Clan” quieted down. I knew who the teacher was.
There’s a verse in the psalms that helps me understand this. It describes how God teaches us:
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8)
It’s that eye that makes the difference. It’s the fact that God doesn’t just give us a list of do’s and don’ts for us to learn, but he watches intently to make sure we’re following through. And knowing that he is personally concerned about us makes us respond personally to him. The great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon comments on this verse:
His eye works upon ours; his eye turns ours to look upon him … He fixes his eye upon us and accepts the return of ours to him. His eye turns us to himself, and then turns us into himself.”*
I think this helps explain what makes some of the good teachers we know so effective. They are personally invested in the children (or adults) they’re teaching. Their eye follows their word.
When I was trying to manage that rowdy class of boys, my eyes were all over the place: Are we too loud, disrupting other classes? Am I controlling them well enough to maintain my dignity as a Pastor? Do they think I’m an “OK” guy? When Farley Peck looked at them, they could tell the difference, even from across the church hall. Her eye expressed the teacher’s concern that’s focused only on the learners’ potential.
The gift and calling of a teacher brings with it great responsibility as well. Spurgeon’s insight into Psalm 32:8, that God’s eye turns us to himself, and then turns us into himself, has a parallel in the influence of a good teacher. Teacher, your students will, hopefully, follow your words, but they will also follow you. So make sure your eye engages God’s eye in a transforming way before you have that life-shaping interaction with your students.
*The Treasury of David, Vol. 1, pp. 98-99
— Pastor George Van Alstine