How can we teach in such a way that our students remember the things we teach them? I couldn’t imagine teaching and not wanting to know the answer to this question. We all remember having a certain teacher that sparked interest in a way that caused us to become completely engaged. Maybe we have had multiple teachers like that. But we can all remember the boring ones too. I remember boring teachers from decades ago. I do not really remember what they taught, just that I wanted their classes to finish so that I could come out of my apathy-induced coma. We have the ability to determine whether we, as teachers, will excite students or bore them.
If we want to make our teaching exciting and memorable, we should develop two things in our students: motivation and understanding. For motivation, we need to realize that students remember things that they want to remember. If we can determine what they want, or more appropriately, what they need, then they will listen to the things we have to say.
The book does a good job explaining the difference between perceived needs and actual needs. Often, a person wants one thing without realizing that they actually need something else. As a preacher, I have to deal with people all the time who want worldly things, and I have to show them that those things will only bring heartache and spiritual death. They actually need to devote themselves to spiritual things. The Christian’s life should revolve around convincing people that they actually need spiritual things.
Of course, in order to teach students anything, we must first make ourselves available to them in a broader sense than just as a teacher in a classroom. I do not know how many times I have heard the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Jesus exemplified compassion, and his students or disciples never had to question whether or not he cared for them.
Investing time and energy into a person’s life also allows a teacher to understand that person’s true needs. Naturally, we all need spiritual growth, but an invested teacher will know some of the other things that a student needs. Jesus, for example, met people’s immediate physical needs sometimes before he even started trying to teach them. He healed the sick; he provided food for multitudes; he cast out demons; he even raised people from the dead, and they followed him for those things. If a congregation has a good outreach program, supplying food or clothing to the members in the community, those community members will often feel more receptive to the message of the gospel that those of that congregation preach.
In addition to motivating people to learn by filling their needs, teachers should help their students to understand the material taught. The book mentions different kinds of learners: some people learn through abstract thought, while others learn through concrete examples. Thus, teachers not only have to understand the material themselves that they teach, they also have to understand their students in order to choose the best method of instruction. What works for one student will not work for another.
Whatever side of the learning spectrum students fall on, they still need understanding in order to retain what they learn. I think that if people fail to grasp a concept, they will not remember it for even a short period of time. Get in front of a group of students and recite a string of numbers to them without telling them anything about those numbers, and none of them will remember those numbers for even ten seconds. Tell the students, however, that you will give them your phone number, and if they memorize it they will get bonus points, and those numbers will become important to them because they understand their significance.