What Makes a Teacher Good?
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes.
James 3 begins with the sobering statement—those who teach will be judged more strictly. This includes not only formal classroom teachers, but also spiritual or moral teachers. Parents, church leaders, pastors, Sunday school teachers, mentors, supervisors, managers, nonprofit ministry leaders—anyone who is responsible for leading another person.
James is clear. We will be judged by God for how we teach others. We are ultimately accountable to God, and he is our primary audience and supervisor. But I think there may be at least a few other dimensions in how we might be judged.
First, we may be judged by those we intend to teach—our students, our children, our direct reports, our congregations, our mentees. If we teach in ways that are oppressive rather than empowering, our students may judge us as ineffective or uninspiring. If we have not adequately prepared, we may lose credibility with those we seek to influence.
Second, we may be judged by people who observe our teaching. The work of teaching is public and interactive. Our reputation depends on how we are perceived.
Third, we judge ourselves. We are often our own worst critics. And our angst is compounded by the public nature of teaching and the risk we take in putting ourselves out there.
What, then, makes a better teacher? How do we avoid these negative kinds of judgments? Most of James 3 describes the difficulty of taming the tongue. It’s very easy to misspeak, to speak harshly, to say something cruel or unkind. Many careers have been shipwrecked by foolish words.
James also hints at one way to guard against the restless evils of untamed tongues. In verses 9-12, he points out the incongruity of a mouth that blesses and curses, absurd as a fresh spring giving salt water or a fig tree producing olives. If you want to speak more purely, be a pure spring. Have consistency and integrity of character. Let good words flow naturally from a pure heart.
We must do more than rehearse and prepare. Good teachers must attend to our character as well as our speech. May our words reflect a life of holiness and integrity. May each of us be a pure spring.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you have a favorite teacher from your educational years? What about this teacher was special to you? Who in your life might be looking to you as a teacher?
PRAYER: Righteous Judge, forgive us for how we have fallen short. Purify our hearts and cleanse our tongues, that we may worthily proclaim your glory. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
READ THE SCRIPTURE IN CONTEXT:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.