Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Tension in Good Teaching

I'm reading an excellent little book, "Teaching to Change Lives" by Dr. Howard Hendricks. This stuff is good; if you teach in any capacity, as a parent (and all parents teach), Sunday School teacher, public school teacher; or if you have any desire to learn more about teaching, get a copy of this book. It's easy to read, engaging and filled with rich, quotable nuggets of wisdom. Chapter Two of the book, "The Law of Education," deals with the tension a teacher must create in order to stir up learning. In explaining why tension is a necessary component of good teaching, Dr. Hendricks begins with psychologist Abraham Maslow's four levels of learning:

1) Unconscious incompetence--the learner's beginning point, the basic level where everyone starts... where you're ignorant and you don't know it.

2) Conscious incompetence--now you know you don't know. How do you find out? Usually somebody tells you but occasionally you discover it for yourself.

3) Conscious competence--you've learned something, as when you first get the hang of driving a car, and you're consciously aware of it as you do it.

4) Unconscious competence--you're so competent you don't even think about it anymore.

Hendricks goes on to explain that the art of teaching--and the difficulty of learning--is getting people to place themselves at the beginning of that cycle, to plunge to the bottom, so they can begin the learning process. There is no growth, no development, no true learning, apart from the tension that must come as people are made aware that they don't know. Tension is absolutely indispensable to the process.

I see this as so very true in the Church in our day, in the area of Christian discipleship. I lived many years not knowing that I didn't know. Only the bittersweet providences of God awakened me to my true condition. I'm so thankful to Him for creating the tension that I needed in my life to show me that I needed to become a true learner. And I am convinced that in many ways I am still at the first level, where I don't yet know that I don't know.

A good teacher will imitate the Master Teacher by helping someone get to the place of seeing that they need to learn. It's an exciting and humbling prospect, that we are given the privilege of participating in changing hearts and minds, in changing lives. May we desire to do that to the very best of our ability, to the glory of God. This little book by Howard Hendricks will be a great help in that direction.


Laurie M. said...

Do you think this would be helpful for someone who teaches adults?

jeri said...

Actually, Laurie, Yes. The book isn't written only for teachers of kids, that's just my application because I teach them. He is a seminary professor and draws on that experience in the book.