What Makes Teachers Effective


By: J. Omar Brubaker

This question has puzzled educators for centuries. The answer is discussed in both Christian and secular educational institutions. The purpose here is not to settle the question but to propose some principles by which teachers can evaluate themselves.

As Christian teachers the picture is a bit different from that of secular educators. Christian teachers need to consider two areas when evaluating their teaching ministry: their spiritual growth and improving their teaching skills.

In Christian education, teaching skills cannot be divorced from the teacher’s character. Being effective teachers implies that they not only be effective communicators, but also embody the truth themselves.

When teachers use Christ as their model and identify with Him more fully, depend upon Him more completely, and learn of Him more explicitly, their ministries will become more effective.

The teacher’s life – committed to Christ

An appropriate illustration of what effective teachers’ lives should reflect is found in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. After Pilgrim started on his way to the heavenly city and came by Interpreter’s house, Interpreter (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) showed him a picture. It is described this way: “Christian saw the
picture of a very grave person hung up against the wall: and this was the fashion of it:

it had eyes lifted to heaven
the best of books in its hand
the law of truth was written upon its lips,
the world was behind its back:
it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang
over its head.”

Christian asked, “What meaneth this?”

Interpreter answered, “The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand” (Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, Universal Book and Bible House, Phila., 1933).

Although the writer felt the picture illustrated the ideal minister, it might also picture the ideal teacher.

Let’s look at each of the statements from Pilgrim’s Progresss separately to illustrate the characteristics of effective teachers.

A person of purpose – “a very grave person”

“You did not choose Me,” Jesus said to his disciples, “but I chose you… that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). How well do you measure up? Do you think of yourself in a servant’s role?

A person of prayer – “eyes lifted to heaven”

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the son can do nothing of Himself” (John 5:!9). The teacher’s prayer life reflects his degree of dependency upon God. What does your prayer life reflect?

A person of the Word – “the best of books in its hand”

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you,” Paul wrote to the Colossians (Col. 3:16). Unless the Word of God grasps teachers, they cannot expect it to grasp their students.

A person of witness – “the law of truth written upon its lips”

Think of how Paul effectively communicated the Word. “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” (I Thess. 2:7). How effective are you in sharing the gospel with your students?

A person separated from the world – “the world was behind its back”

“Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). Your positive example will teach volumes. How’s your separation from the world?

A person of passion – “it stood as if it pleaded with men”

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

It should go without saying that Christian teachers should desire their students to become Christians. Some feel that their job is finished, however, when their students accept Christ as Savior. But teachers should also desire their students to grow up in Him.

The teacher’s ministry – controlled by Christ

Having seen the picture of the ideal Christian teacher, it is necessary to look at the teacher’s ministry for the two are inseparable.

Richardson wrote in his book, The Christ of the Classroom, “The supreme glory of the teaching profession consists on the fact that when Jesus Christ faced his life work, he chose to be a teacher.”

Clarifying purpose

For yourself – Do you have a positive attitude about yourself in the classroom: a sense of personal adequacy? This involves personal acceptance, self-esteem, and confidence. As you confidently accept yourself as a very special person and that God made you, your ability to be open and sharing is enhanced. Being yourself-natural, positive, and casual makes it easy for students to accept and respect you.

For your students – You can help your students develop self-esteem. Provide opportunities for them to participate in meaningful ways. Guide them in developing positive attitudes toward others, the learning situation, yourself as a teacher, and the Lord and His Word.

For your lessons – A specific aim helps to target each lesson. Learn to know your students well so you can formulate aims in light of their personal needs.

Depending of God

Teachers’ lives should be models of prayer and dependence upon God. Students can catch your example of reverence in the departmental and class worship.

The Holy Spirit – The Christian educator’s version of Zech. 4:6 reads, “It’s not by the might of excellent methods, nor by the power of polished techniques, but by my spirit, saith the Lord.”

Prayer – Teachers’ prayer lives should involve more than “God bless my class.” Here are some suggestions for making prayers more meaningful:

Pray for yourself.

Pray as you study the Word.

Pray for specific needs.

Pray for guidance in choosing methods and applications.

Pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in your life and the lives of your students.

Teaching with authority

Christian teachers are charged with “handling accurately the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Under authority – The Christian teacher’s authority is the Lord Himself, and God’s Word.

The use of the Word – Recognize that the Bible is the textbook of Christian education. Here are some tips which reinforce the important place of the Bible in teaching.

Teach from an open Bible, not a teacher’s guide. Use the Bible and encourage students to use theirs.

Encourage students to memorize the Word. Take the Word seriously, memorize the passage yourself; introduce it early on the lesson and refer to it often during the lesson; teach students how to use it in life situations; expect the class to memorize and they will.

Sharpening communication skills

Teachers often confuse telling with teaching and listening with learning. To communicate effectively you must: start where the student is; remember that learning is based on interest and need; teach in light of learning being an active process; view it as a continuing process; and expect that it takes place through

Sharing convictions

Students will soon learn what their teachers’ priorities are. They can easily sense what you feel deeply about.


Showing concern

Salvation emphasis in teaching – Evangelism should be a constant concern. A steady diet of it, however, is not enough to feed all who need to grow in the Lord.

Here are some suggestions regarding the salvation emphasis – Pray much, depend on the Holy Spirit for results. Present the message tactfully, naturally, and appropriately. Use the Bible. Provide the opportunity to privately counsel students who respond to an invitation. Avoid symbolism with young children – make sure you understand any symbols used.

Christian growth and discipleship – How can teachers train those who have been won in discipleship, and encourage the spiritual growth of all the class members? Here are some suggestions:

Help all students to study the Bible themselves.

Help students to learn how to share their faith.

Encourage them to practice what they learn.

Spend time together outside of class.

Pray together; encourage personal requests for prayer.

Give students opportunity for expression, practice, and leadership.

Encourage spiritually mature students to help those less advanced.


Remember the illustration from Pilgrim’s Progress at the beginning of this study? “A crown of gold did hang over its head.” Interpreter said, “that is to show thee that, slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next to have glory for his reward.”

Interpreter added, “I have showed thee this picture first because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou are going hath authorized to be thy guide….”

You can be such a guide.

You can be “one of a thousand.”

(The above material appeared in Evangelical Training Association’s Profile, Fall 1992).

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