I pick up my phone and see her text: “I hate this so much… I want to be there in person…I feel like I am making this even more frustrating on them.” Earlier in the week, I listen to a teary audio message describing her anxieties about an upcoming lesson. Her voice quivers with emotion as she recounts all the things that have not gone well in her lessons thus far.
Under normal circumstances, a novice teacher would be able to shyly enter her students’ classroom, trip across uneven floorboards, and step up to a creaky podium. As she races through her instructions, she would notice the puzzled faces and hesitancy at the start of an activity. She would use the break to wander around the classroom, glancing at desks piled high with tired texts and test prep books, accidentally nudging a seat cushion off its wooden chair. She could ask casual questions and listen to the indistinct chatter and friendly teasing between classmates.
But this teacher has not been able to enter the country let alone darken the door of that classroom. She meets her students two-dimensionally, some simply represented as blank grey squares, stripped of humanness. The voices of her learners echo and falter. She calls out a name and hears half a reply a few stilted moments later. Her group work consists of break-out rooms that she attempts to “visit,” only to see one silent “room” after another, the students seemingly uncertain what to do.
Is this failure? Is this “cheating” the students of a learning experience? It certainly does not seem ideal. Many educators have voiced their concerns and even anger over online learning during the pandemic. However, can we, followers of the Master Teacher, call our teaching experiences a failure?
For years I have tried to persuade teachers that there are many ways to imitate our Master Teacher. One of the most powerful is when you misspell that word on the board but only realize it after a student points it out. When you choose to smile, smudge out the chalky error with your finger and turn back around to continue your lesson, you glow with the Master Teacher’s humility. When a student is more engaged with his phone than his group’s discussion and you pull him aside to firmly but lovingly explain the repercussions of his inattention, you can shine with the Master’s gentleness.
I propose that if we are abiding in the Master Teacher all things that can happen in a lesson, online or in person, can work together for good and glory.
Having it all together with well-cut shirt and shiny shoes, confident gestures and clear voice, well-timed activities and relevant topics are all excellent aims. But this appearance can cover up what you and I truly are inside: weak, afraid, and empty without Him. The Master Teacher’s power is made perfect in our weakness!
Prepare your lessons as best you can, learn more strategies for good Zoom assessments, but when something goes wrong— the audio cuts in and out, the students don’t turn on their cameras, the planned lively discussions go limp— remember that when you are abiding in the Master Teacher “failure” is an opportunity to glow. Allow Him to guide you and speak to you. That voice in your mind that cries “Fail!” is your enemy. Stifle it. Invite the true Master to speak into your heart and mind. How do you know which voice is which? One causes us to look up job openings in another field, and the other Voice gives us hope and comfort for the next lesson.
Lelac Almagor. “I Taught Online School This Year. It Was a Disgrace.” New York Times, June 16, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/16/opinion/remote-learning-failure.html
 See 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
- Go to edutopia.org and search for “online teaching.” The article titles will reveal how much anxiety and frustration is involved in online teaching.
- Second Corinthians has much to say about perspective during difficulties. The first chapter, verses 3-4 is a good reminder of how we can comfort ourselves and other teachers who are weary or anxious about teaching. See also 12:9-10.
- See last week’s Communion lectionary and study guide and take some time to abide in Him.
What’s your perspective?
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
- Search for strength and fail or failure in a concordance or Bible app. What common themes do you see? Do they shed light on our “success” or “failure” when teaching?
- What examples in the Word demonstrate how our “failures” can be used for good and glory?
- What are some ways you have failed successfully?
Since 2001, Bridget Watson has been living and teaching in China— the place where she met her husband and had both of her children. She has an MA in TESOL from Azusa Pacific University and completed a certificate in TESOL Teacher Mentoring in cooperation with Wheaton College. Her teaching experience continues to broaden as she branches out to teacher mentoring, TESOL teacher training, and homeschooling.
Photo by Barry Zhou on Unsplash.