Teaching often tends to be an exercise in control. I don’t mean this in a negative sense. Good teachers seek to exercise control for the overall good of the learners and the learning enterprise. We plan lessons carefully. These plans include options if learning doesn’t go according to plan, resources if timing doesn’t go according to plan, and motivational techniques if learners don’t go according to plan. We set goals and objectives to make sure class time is purposeful. We build in formative and summative assessments to check whether goals and objectives are being reached. We practice sound classroom management skills that aim to control the flow of behavior and communication and to motivate students in proper directions. We design courses and curriculum so as to mirror these ways of teaching at a bigger-picture level.
The global COVID-19 pandemic demolished this for me—internally, not externally. Externally, what my students saw (I think) was an experienced teacher coping reasonably well with new technology in a new situation. But internally, I was a child flailing about on new roller skates. Lesson plans had to be scrapped or reinvented overnight. Go-to activities no longer worked as they should. Assessing on Zoom felt downright impossible. For students on smartphones, I was no more than a postage stamp on a screen. Flexibility is one thing. I’ve often told my novice teachers to hold their lesson plans with loose hands. What was happening now was a whole different beast!
To be a teacher who follows the Master Teacher during a pandemic has thus for me often felt out of control. I’m careening along in a high-speed video game, hoping I haven’t yet used all three of my “lives.” What made me think I was or even could be in control? What made me think I had ever been in control?!
In the original Jurassic Park movie, the main characters criticized the urge to try to control every variable. In building a business to turn cloned dinosaurs into recreation, the park staff believed they had prepared for every contingency and had everything under control. Not unlike teachers. But this belief is both unrealistic and prideful. And we all know how that turned out in the movie. (If you don’t, spoiler alert—badly!)
I had thought my faith was central to my teaching. Then the pandemic exposed how weak my faith in this area truly was. What I was really trusting in were my teaching skills, lesson plans, materials, and so on. Not the Master Teacher. I preferred to remain in control. I believe that He is in control and sovereign over all circumstances. I treasure the reality that He is our Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. But somehow in practice my classrooms were often exempted from these truths. His control was exercised through my lesson plans—ha!
The life of a follower of the Master Teacher does involve elements of “control”—namely, spiritual habits, disciplines, and self-control. And I’m certainly not throwing teacher skills and best practices out the window as I continue to seek to be an excellent teacher for His glory. But the flip side of following Him is trusting when things spin out of control. Utter trust, complete dependence, committing myself and my students unreservedly to His wisdom and love when there’s nothing I can do to “control” much of anything. When my day-to-day teaching resembles Mufasa running before the wildebeests in The Lion King, even and especially then I need to affirm: “Surely [the Shepherd’s] goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”
This must be what it was like for the original Twelve to follow the Master Teacher for three years, all the way to the Cross. It was not what they expected. It was not what they wanted. Yet He was in perfect control the entire time. And the results were and are more beautiful and more powerful than they or we could ever have imagined.
 Psalm 23:6, English Standard Version.
- See Psalm 23 and John 10 for more on our Shepherd.
- To download a free monthly devotional, click here: “Following the Good Shepherd.”
What’s your perspective?
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
- How have you felt “out of control” during this pandemic?
- What lessons has the Master Teacher taught you about His control?
- In what ways do you deal with the stresses of teaching during a pandemic?
Bradley Baurain has been teaching for nearly 30 years in China, Vietnam, Canada, and the United States. He now leads the B.A. and M.A. TESOL programs at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Rather ironically, just prior to the pandemic he wrote a book entitled On Waiting Well: Moving from Endurance to Enjoyment When You’re Waiting on God.