The Heart of Effective Teaching


woman_pulling_out_hairI recently took part in a discussion regarding the keys to effective teaching. This was a discussion that took part in a church environment with youth and adults participating together. The premise was good. The discussion revolved around how we can be better teachers but also how we be better students. The responses were abundant as both spiritual and practical suggestions were offered by those who are “in the trenches.” I found some suggestions on point and others left me cringing, because in their words I heard myself a few years ago. As comments were made about teens eating during the lesson, kids not walking reverently through the halls, teens not being present and ready to learn, and off topic discussions among students resulting in teachers not being able to get through their lessons, I heard my own frustrations being voiced from callings past.

It is hard. I sympathize with the struggles of teaching kids and teens (and even adults) in church classes, in public school, in our own homes. I get it. It is exhausting and often thankless.

I get it. I live it.

But in listening to some of the comments about the unruly and irreverent behavior problems I found myself biting my tongue, feeling the need to offer a dose of reality but struggling to put a voice to my thoughts.

I cringe when I heard some of these comments because they hit so close to home. I was that teacher that simply didn’t get it. I was blessed with three easy kids that are a teacher’s dream. They sit still, they come prepared, that don’t disrupt. I had little patience for those troublesome kids that made my time teaching a lesson more challenging than it needed to be. I felt disrespected and felt my time wasn’t valued. I felt that their parents had obviously failed in some manner to have created such “disrespectful heathens,” and found myself pridefully whispering under my breath, “My child would never…”

Then I discovered the hard truth:

The ease of my first three were not a reflection on my parenting, but rather a reflection on a life that wasn’t as challenging as some of the other students’ lives in my class.

When we adopted two boys whose lives were filled with early childhood challenges I realized that parenting these two, teaching these two, was a much more accurate reality for most children than the childhood of my first three.

But this was a lesson I only learned through this journey. So I understand when comments are made about expectations for the children in a class, because I was there not too long ago, but I found myself wanting to offer a dose of reality to the discussion:

Behind every behavior is an internal struggle trying to be voiced.


You see a child being disruptive in class. I see a child who can’t read and is fearful of being put on the spot.

You see a child rudely leaving your class and wandering the halls. I see a child who is physically unable to sit still for 3 hours.

You see back row chatting happening when they should be sitting quiet. I see a child who needs to be heard.

You see a child who disrespectfully shows up to church in wrinkled and dirty clothes. I see a child who has nothing else to wear.

You see a child sneaking food or lying. I see a child who fears another meal might not be there.

You see a child who isn’t trying… who isn’t following through on assignments. I see a child who has MUCH BIGGER issues. Who is just trying to survive.

You see a child who always shows up late. I see a family working hard to be there at all.

You see noise and chaos. I see a child comfortable with their environment who has finally learned to trust.

You see wiggles and disobedience. I see a child who is over-stimulated.

You see a sullen, uninterested, defiant child. I see a child who doesn’t believe you love them.

I am still learning. It is still a daily challenge. As a “rule minder” by nature…as someone who find comfort in the black and white judgements in life,  I am still learning to accept that the world is a messy medley of grey.

I agree that as teachers we are working toward a certain standard of achievement, respect, learning, and reverence, but we must loving embrace the reality that what those things look like on one child are not how they appear on another. These standards are moving targets, always evolving. The goal should be improvement not perfection, because what reverence looks like on one child in this season of their life isn’t what it looks like on another child. That is the reality.

We are all on a journey, with the same destination as our goal, but we are all on very different stretches of the same road, so to expect a group of children to walk together side by side isn’t reality.

So what is the answer? Do we as teachers simply throw up our hands, give up, drop all goals or standards of behavior?

No, of course not.

We pray. We pray for each child by name, petitioning help from our Heavenly Father for wisdom and guidance, inspiration and patience beyond our own.

We listen for the guidance of the Holy Ghost. The Lord knows of each child’s circumstances, hidden struggles, and challenges and He will inspire us to know these things if we humbly set aside our own agenda and preconceived notions and devote ourselves to doing HIS work…praying, “Lord, I am merely Thy servant. Use me as Thou would. Thy will be done.”


And then we love. We follow the example of Jesus Christ and we love.

We love people right where they are at

rather than work to make them more loveable.

You want to change the dynamic of your classroom? You want better behavior and more respect? You want children who are engaged and interested in the message you have to share? The answer is simple, as one seasoned mom and teacher shared, “Love them. Just love them. Once they know you truly love them then the rest falls into place.”

Because the reality is:

Your students won’t care how much you know,

until they know how much you care.

I will now step off my soapbox and exit stage left…

Please forgive my rant.  🙂

5 responses »

  1. Studying to be a special education teacher really opened my eyes to a lot of this. We learned that there is a purpose behind every behavior. I remember once working with a child who was behind in class, so I helped him one on one with his assignments a few hours a week. He rarely paid attention, often just laying his head down on the table, telling me he couldn’t, and asking when lunch was. It took way longer than it should have for me to realize that he was hungry, that he wasn’t getting enough to eat at home and so while I was trying to get him to do his school work, all he could think about was the fact that he had not yet had anything to eat that day, but he still had to wait another 2 hours until lunch. On days when treats were brought to the class and shared his school work with so much better. I learned to be kind, patient, and understanding. It was still my job to get him to do his school work, and there was nothing I could do about him being hungry (I talked to his classroom teacher, but since I was still a student I couldn’t do anything myself), but I decided that me getting frustrated with him was never again going to add to the stress that he was already feeling. I tried to be a safe place for him, an understanding adult, and sometimes that seemed to make the wait until lunch easier. More than anything this experience taught me that there is always more going on than I can see at first glance.

    • How wonderful you learned this lesson so early in life. It is a wisdom most people only gain with age…if at all. You will be a wonderful teacher and a blessing to many I’m sure!! Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed your post very much and found myself nodding along as I read the truths you so eloquently stated. Yes..yes..yes. You are so right! Thank you!

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