The Teacher is First a Learner

Howard Hendricks

From: Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive (Multnomah Publishers, 1987). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The effective teacher always teaches from the overflow of a full life. “¦ If you stop growing today, you’ll stop teaching tomorrow.

Neither personality nor methodology can substitute for this principle. You cannot communicate out of a vacuum. You cannot impart what you do not possess. If you don’t know it””truly know it””you can’t give it.

This law embraces the philosophy thatI, as a teacher, am primarily a learner, a student among students. I am perpetuating the learning process; I am still en route. And by becoming a student again, I as a teacher will look at the education process through a radically new””and uniquely personal””set of eyes”¦

This requires a certain attitude””that attitude that you have not yet “arrived.” A person who applies this principle of teaching is always asking “How can I improve?” Think of it this way: As long as you live, you learn; and as long as you learn, you live.
When I was a college student””back before the earth’s crust hardened””I worked in a college dining hall, and on my way to work at 5:30 every morning I walked past the home of one of my professors. Through a window I could see a light on at his desk, morning after morning.

At night I stayed late at the library to take advantage of evening study hours, and returning home at 10:30 or 11 o’clock, I would again see his desk light on. He was always pouring over his books.

One day he invited me home for lunch, and after a meal I said to him, “Would you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Of course not.”

“What keeps you studying? You never seem to stop.”

His answer, I learned later, was in the words of another””but they had become his own: “Son, I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.”

He was one of the best professors I ever had””a man who marked me permanently. How about those you teach? From what are they drinking? “¦


Some Practical Advice

Let me give you three suggestions for growing the intellectual dimension of your life. First, maintain a consistent study and reading program. Understand that leaders are readers, and readers are leaders.

But I find people who say, “You know, Dr. Hendricks, I’m reading a lot of things, but frankly I’m not finding that it changes my life or contributes that much.”

Here’s a way out: If you have an hour set apart to read, try reading the first half-hour and use the second half-hour to reflect on what you read. Watch the difference it makes. You’re reading too much if you reflect on it too little”¦

Second, enroll in continuing education courses””courses that will improve not only your content, but also your skill. Today there are more opportunities of this kind to enrich your mind and develop your gifts than ever before.

But the most important course is your own personal Bible study program. In all my years I’ve never found a layperson with a significant spiritual ministry who does not also have a strong personal intake of God’s Word”¦

Third, get to know your students. Become an authority on the needs and general characteristics of their age group. But go beyond that; get to know your students individually. Find out as much about them as you possibly can.

Years ago in a church in Dallas we were having trouble finding a teacher for a junior-high boys class. The list of prospects had only one name””and when they told me who it was, I said “You’ve got to be kidding.” But I couldn’t have been more wrong about that young man. He took the class and revolutionized it.

I was so impressed I invited him home for lunch and asked him the secret of his success. He pulled out a little black book. On each page he had a small picture of one of the boys, and under the boy’s name were comments like “having trouble in arithmetic,” or “comes to church against his parents’ wishes,” or “would like to be a missionary someday but doesn’t think he has what it takes.”

“I pray over those pages every day,” he said, “and I can hardly wait to come to church each Sunday and see what God has been doing in their lives” “¦

From: Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive (Multnomah Publishers, 1987). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Howard Hendricks directly or indirectly touched millions of lives. He was a faculty member at Dallas Theological Seminary from 1951 to 2012 and ministered in more than 80 countries through speaking engagements, radio, books, tapes, and films. He is also the former Bible teacher and chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys football team.