Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

How do you hear?

seedlingA current study of the Parable of the Sower has me wondering if it should be called the Parable of the Soils or even Ears. In Luke’s recounting,[1] the Master Teacher reaches the conclusion and then cries out, “Have ears to hear.” In order to grow, we may have to plow up ground hardened by our pride, doubt, or stubbornness; we may need to weed out fear or other distractions.[2] In other words, fertile soil pays attention to how it hears.

With this underlying principle in mind, I see four potential applications for teachers.

1. Preparing and Cultivating the Soil

Before we can plant seeds, we may need to cultivate the soil. While volunteer teaching in a remote area of China, my colleague encountered a student who had been labeled with a learning disability. Suspecting instead that circumstances had left the child feeling abandoned, my colleague gave her some extra attention, and she began to blossom. Another teacher, expressing concern for her students, referred to a meme she has seen frequently on social media: Maslow before Bloom’s. We can’t meet learners’ academic needs until their most basic needs—from hunger to love—are met.

Even when basic needs are satisfied, we may still encounter less weighty obstacles to learning. Affective needs, a lack of motivation, for example, may get in the way. Personal characteristics or a society’s philosophy of education may require developing ownership or another strategy. How do you cultivate soil and weed out interferences?

2. Patience with the Process

On my journey through the Parable of the Soils, some words stood out.[3] When talking about unhealthy soil, the Master Teacher says “only to” have the seed taken away, “for a while” before they fall away, and “all too quickly the message is crowded out.” This is contrasted with fertile soil that patiently yields a harvest. Other versions include the idea of perseverance. In other words, good soil doesn’t simply happen; it becomes, and this becoming is a process.

A Chinese saying reads: 十年树木百年树人, It takes ten years to grow a tree, one hundred to cultivate a person. Dealing with affective needs or developing strategies, changing situations and circumstances, giving and receiving love, these all take time, perhaps a lifetime. Instead of feeling impatient or frustrated, how could we embrace the process?

3. Ownership

Some teacher friends and I were talking recently about the movie Hichki. Three of us were inspired, but one was concerned that the film perpetuates an idea that teachers can work miracles. We three are university teachers; he teaches middle school and deals with parental and societal beliefs that if his students fail exams, he’s to blame.

You may have felt a sense of blame at my words above about motivation and ownership when you want to cry out to your students, “Have ears to hear!” There are many steps we can take to cultivate soil, remove stones, and weed out interferences. However, ultimately, the responsibility for learning rests on the shoulders of our students. How can we graciously and compassionately remind them to pay attention to how they hear?

4. Personal Responsibility

Cultivating ears to hear in our students, may begin in our hearts. I wonder if you, like me, have ever asked the Master Teacher the meaning of a life parable, begging Him to spell it out and show you which direction to go. How do you hear Him graciously and compassionately respond?


[1] See chapter 8.
[2] Kenton K. Smith, Sow the Word…Harvest Character, (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1998).
[3] See Luke 8:11-15 in the New Living Translation.

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • What kind of soil do you find among your students? How do you prepare and cultivate it?
  • How do you embrace the process of change in them?
  • What are some ways you help your students develop “ears to hear”?
  • How do you hear?

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith


Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

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This entry was posted on May 8, 2019 by in affective factors, ears to hear, learner ownership, Melissa K. Smith, parables.

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