A parable that inspires me toward better teaching is the one in which the Master Teacher used pictures of clothing patches and wineskins:
Who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.
The two images carry the same meaning. Putting new patches on old clothing doesn’t work. The two are not compatible. Similarly, new wine and old wineskins are not compatible. In that day, new wine was poured into new goatskin bags. As the wine fermented and expanded, the skin bag would stretch naturally. Since an old wineskin had already been through this process, it would rip open if reused. Putting new wine in old wineskins doesn’t work.
In context, the point the Master was making was that He and His message were something altogether new. He was not at all like the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. And He was qualitatively different from John the Baptist as well. Therefore, new and different responses were needed to His Person and message.
How does this parable spur me toward better teaching? First, it causes me to reflect on the “old” and the “new” in my own teaching. “Old” activities are my favorites. I know when to use them, how to run them, and what they’re good for. They help provide comfortable routines and structure for me and my students. “New” activities can also be fruitful options. They help provide freshness or even surprise. Unfamiliarity feels risky but can stimulate new ways and new kinds of learning.
In a recent methodology course, I showed my students (novice teachers) a list of popular reading activities and asked them:
- Which one is your favorite and why?
- Which one are you skeptical or even scared of but willing to try?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of sticking with your favorites?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of trying something new?
Afterwards, one wrote in her course journal:
I think I err on the safe side with my students when I choose activities for them to do. I want them to be successful, so I usually choose activities that I think they will do well on…I don’t want them to fail because it makes me feel like I have failed as well. After our discussion, I think it’s time that I start working on getting out of this mindset of “safe teaching/safe learning.” I need to push my students, and this means that I need to push myself, too. I haven’t really realized before how much my own feelings of self-worth and confidence come from their performance…Perhaps this is what parents feel like sometimes when their kids fail, and they in turn perceive it as their failure, too. I want to be able to offer a variety of experiences and activities and lessons for my students, and this means accepting the fact that not everything will go smoothly or it may take a couple of tries.
Second, this parable reminds me of the importance of context. Just as a patch that works perfectly with one article of clothing might lead to disaster with another, so an activity that works well with one class won’t necessarily work well with a different group of learners. What was a hit with the old might flop with the new—an experience we’ve all had. There is no “one size fits all” in materials or methodology. Contextualization requires constant attentiveness.
Finally, this parable illustrates the power of images from everyday life. Jesus used familiar, relatable pictures. His listeners could easily imagine them and thus grasp his point more quickly. In some ways, “relevance,” “personalization,” and “connections to students’ lives” all come down to the teacher’s ability to engage learners’ imaginations with pictures, examples, and stories. On this topic, the parables of the Master Teacher have much to teach us!
 Matthew 9:16-17, New Living Translation.
 Quoted with permission.