The Student is the Teacher
by Jill Schafhauser
These days most of my official teaching takes place with teachers. As a special education administrator, I have the privilege of observing students and offering insight but rarely get to teach traditional students except in our local youth fellowship. I try to keep my teacher-self under control during our family group meetings, but sometimes the teacher leaks out. Over the past several months our youth leader has let me link arms with her and work together to create some of our family group lesson plans. (We don’t use the term lesson plan; we are far cooler than that.) Her leader brain and my teacher brain pair nicely and produce a guideline that our volunteers and students all seem to enjoy and benefit from. It’s certainly a joy for me.
A few weeks ago our text was the Prodigal Son. Our fellowship has been studying the red letters of the Word, specifically parables. We decided, with some reluctance, to change up our reading format. I had noticed students interacting less and less with a simple read aloud. A reader’s theater seemed risky. We worried our middle and high school students might feel they were back in elementary school. Nope! They dove right in. I’ve found that high school students really like to be silly as long as we take the first and broadest step.
Following our reader’s theater, students were asked to place labels on the three people in the parable. We started with the sons and ended with the father. After a discussion of the labels and why we chose each word, students were asked with which character they most identified. A few students answered with much of what I anticipated. One student identified with the prodigal son. Another student identified with the older brother. I asked higher level questions of each as any good teacher does, and then I was stopped in my tracks. One student said, “I relate most to the father in this story.” “Ooooooh! Tell me more!” I said. The student went on to explain how people in her life who should be counted on continue to need forgiveness. I had not anticipated that answer.
What a gift that student gave me. Let’s be clear. The student was not relating her forgiveness with the forgiveness of Yahweh. She knows and understands the gift she’s been given by her Father in heaven. Instead she was honestly sharing her feeling of weariness over offering forgiveness in a steady stream to people she loves. Heads nodded around the room. She was certainly not the only one who felt this way.
So what is the lesson for those of us leading the lesson? First, as many times as I am reminded of the struggles students face outside of our classrooms, I continue to work from my life lens. I must, must, must work to broaden my lens and anticipate how students in the midst of family and life struggles may interpret any given teaching.
Second, I nailed the follow up. What if I had said, “Well, actually in this parable the father is Yahweh and you can’t really identify with Him.” I’m sure none of us would be so insensitive. However, are there times we are insensitive in a more subtle manner? Had I not listened to her answer, or had I not allowed her to fill silence, everyone in the room would have missed some excellent conversation about forgiveness.
Finally, know your plan and be willing to leave it behind. I had not anticipated that response so I had not planned for the conversation that followed. I had planned to talk about being selfish and humble, camp out on each brother, and then beautifully tie it all together with Yahweh’s saving love. Instead, we lifted each other and some of the authentic, tough stuff teenagers battle.
The most important lesson is always loving more like the Master Teacher. I want to love my students the way He loves me. My student keeps offering courageous forgiveness, and I will keep offering humble encouragement. It’s truly one of the greatest joys of my life.
- Check out the parable: Luke 15: 11-32.
- You can find an example of a reader’s theater here.
What’s Your Perspective
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
- How do you broaden your life lens to better relate to your students? How do meaningful, intentional relationships assist with this?
- How do you plan for unexpected responses from your students? Have you had experiences where a student response has improved the outcome of your lesson?
- Who do you need to forgive like Jill’s student forgives those who let her down?
Jill Schafhauser is the Assistant Director of Special Education in a school district near Indianapolis, Indiana. Jill has been loving life in the world of special education for over twenty years. She also has two handsome sons and an awesome husband. The Schafhausers serve the Master Teacher as a team, trying to be a bit more like Him daily.