Teachers Day this year almost passed me by without my awareness but I recall it is Education month. I have taught cumulatively at the secondary and tertiary-levels of the Jamaican educational system for the past 44 years and stumbled on a revolutionary mindset re teaching some 25 years ago during a training course conducted by the USA organization Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.
In their 7 Laws of the Learner module, President Bruce Wilkinson highlights the Bible’s radical view of teaching from 2 verses in the Old Testament. Before I share the details of these verses I mention the popular proverb known and even uttered by teachers to their students, when said teachers are plain fed up with the “thankless job of teaching”. That proverb in our native language says: “Yu cyan fose horse fi go a river but yu cyaan fose im fi drink”.
All teachers deserve sympathy generally and understanding even when they are forced, owing to frustration, to throw the proverb at their students. The modern classroom is no walk in the park or a piece of cake as far too many students regard school as punishment at hard labour and their parents or guardians do little to lessen the frustration for teachers.
Wilkinson explores the words teach and learn from Deuteronomy 4:1 and 5:1 Ponder the texts.
4:1 “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am TEACHING you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (New American Standard Bible, NASB)
5:1 “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may LEARN them and observe them carefully.” (NASB)
Wilkinson highlighted a most fascinating link between teach and learn that is unique to the Bible. This link comes out in the Hebrew words for teach and learn. Old Testament Hebrew words have what are called root letters (consonants), the essential building blocks of the word which also suggest its basic meaning. For verbs, depending on the form, there can be a prefix before the root and/or a suffix after the root.
Now Hebrew is read from right to left unlike English (from left to right) so the letters would be counted from the right. Look at the diagram below re Hebrew key words. Treat the Hebrew characters as symbols for this exercise. So, ‘learn’ in Hebrew has 6 letters/symbols and ‘teach’ has 4 letters/symbols.
Hebrew key words
‘learn’ 5:1 וּלְמַדְתֶּ֣ם
‘teach’ 4:1 מְלַמֵּ֥ד
Work with me in this non-live lesson. Look closely at letters 2,3, 4 in learn and 2,3,4 in teach. Do you notice anything? Yes, they look alike. These 3 letters are the root of each verb and the root is the same for learn as for teach. In English letters, that root is LMD or seeing them as they appear in Hebrew, DML. I hope I have not lost you. I can hear you asking in puzzlement, so is learn and teach the same thing since both words in Hebrew have the same root?
Well, not really, there is a difference, though both verbs are related. The difference between these two words in our texts is in the form of the verb, the tense of the verb. The basic root LMD means to learn.
The form of the verb ‘to teach’ is the Piel (the piel intensifies the action of the root, it is to cause the root idea to take place) so if learn is the root idea of LMD and when it is in the Piel it means ‘to teach’ what is the Bible’s mindset about teaching?
I think you got it, biblically, to teach is to cause learning.
So then in your teaching-learning setting, you may preach like Paul , sing like Andrea Bocelli and dance like Michael Jackson, but if by those methods you are not causing learning you are not really teaching, biblically speaking.
If you take the biblical mindset seriously it shatters the proverb re horse and water mentioned earlier. The proverb is not even true as a frustrated young Teacher who used the proverb in a Parent/Teachers meeting as a plea of mitigation for his efforts, learned from an old farmer. The farmer said you can make him drink “feed him salt, young man.”
Feeding salt is a metaphor for effective methodology in catering to the varied learning styles of students, not an easy venture but the right intentionality to cause learning prompts creativity.
Teachers, ponder the biblical mindset and honestly give it a try as the fire beneath your mastery of the subject you will teach your studentsto absorb, in the interest of nation-building. Ender: Rev. Clinton Chisholm is the author of the recently published book A Controversial Clergyman. His online course on critical thinking based on the book will soon be available.