When the Teacher Becomes the Student
Several years ago, I taught a Wednesday night Bible class to third and fourth graders. There was no specific curriculum so I made up my own. I decided to start with the first page of the Bible and work my way through, hitting all the major stories I’d learned as a child and tying them together for the kids. A long piece of butcher paper hung horizontally on the wall with the words “The Family of Jesus” written at the top. The first night we wrote in “Adam and Eve” and with each story we came to, we filled in the name of the relative Jesus descended from.
This plan was truly brilliant. Have you seen how big the Bible is? Have you read the recorded genealogy of Jesus? I was pretty sure I could manage enough lesson plans to last me for quite a while. I figured I’d just cruise along, scan over the familiar stories ahead of time; write down the pertinent character on our family tree and BAM! Lesson done with a minimum of work.
And then something unexpected happened.
Each week as I’d read through the next chapter or two in preparation for the upcoming class, new things would jump off the pages at me. I started seeing the Bible in a whole new way. I have always believed the Bible to be the Word of God, but it always felt like a history text book/instruction manual hybrid. Instead, I found out the Bible is loaded with all the elements of a great fiction novel: suspense; deceit; murder; adultery; love; war; violence; tenderness; mercy – all wrapped up in the ageless battle of good versus evil.
Not only that, but so many of the stories I’d learned as a child and thought I knew so well were not exactly as I had remembered. And all those parts in between the familiar tales that you hardly ever hear about? Overflowing with unexpected gems, some of which are hardly appropriate for children.
Somewhere along the way, I had heard that the vast majority of these stories are intertwined and serve to set Israel up for the Messiah, but I didn’t know that for myself. The lesson plans were supposed to be for the benefit of these elementary students, but I was the one learning more and more each week.
I unexpectedly became a student.
I hadn’t realized the relationship between Joseph being sold into slavery and Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. I didn’t know Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, or that her husband’s (Boaz) mother was the prostitute, Rahab, who aided the Israeli spies at Jericho.
I was stunned at the age of 30-something, to discover that Noah actually took seven of every kind of clean animal on the ark, not just two of every animal. I was fascinated when, in chapter 5 of Genesis, I read the genealogy and figured out that, based on his age of death, Methuselah (Noah’s grandfather) actually died in the flood!
One of my favorite lessons was on David and Goliath. I took another piece of butcher paper and drew the outline of a man who was 9’9” – the height of the giant as described in 1 Samuel. It was too tall to hang in our classroom, so I hung it up in the fellowship hall. There we all stood against the giant, myself included, and marked how tall we were. I was stunned. The tallest man I had ever seen was Wilt Chamberlain, who stood at an impressive 7’1”. Goliath was more than two feet taller!
What I unexpectedly learned about teaching.
I could go on and on about all the tiny, and not-so-tiny, treasures hidden in the Old Testament and how it paints a broader picture of God. It’s not uncommon for people to say they don’t know the Bible very well or they don’t remember all the Sunday school stories. My stock answer? Teach a kids’ class. For me, teaching a kids’ Bible class was an unexpected lesson in how much I didn’t know about the Bible.
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So true. The Old Testament is a gem, and it’s like ‘the rest of the story’ in a prequel! Sounds like a fun class for both students and teacher!
I don’t know if they had any fun, but I had a blast! And it really created such a love for the Old Testament in me. 🙂
Jen, Those kids must have loved your class! Your experiences prompted me to remember my time teaching a primary Sunday school class. What a delightful challenge to interact with these little ones – especially when one asked me to explain the Trinity! You are so right that we certainly learn much more when sharing what God has for us. Thanks for your story!
I think sometimes it was helpful to me to see things through a child’s eyes, too. It often made the story so much richer. They could see the wonder in things I had long ago just taken for granted. A lot to be gained from all those tinies!
“The lesson plans were supposed to be for the benefit of these elementary students, but I was the one learning more and more each week.? Yup yup yup. Best way to learn a topic, a book, a subject, is to teach it! And I didn’t realize that about Noah’s Grandpop – I guess I never thought that closing the door of the ark would have been putting to death some of his family! Oiy!
I would very much like it if you would resurrect this idea as an ADULT Bible class. Pleeeeeease!!
Hmm… I started writing “Trippin’ Through the Bible” on a WP blog years ago and only made it to Genesis 8 or 9, I think. lol Maybe I should resurrect it…