Was Jesus an ‘Outstanding’ Teacher?

This sequence of lessons begins with a starter activity where Jesus distributes pieces of fish and loaves of bread among his students. It is difficult to know how this relates to the learning objectives, since none are provided, so I will assume the following LO: ‘to understand the nature of divine intervention in the context of the Jewish festival of Passover’. Jesus secures high levels of student engagement in this task, and while the activity was good for religious instruction, I worry about the promotion of numeracy in Jesus’s lesson – after the students have eaten the five loaves of bread, the crumbs that were gathered somehow numbered ‘twelve handbaskets’.

Jesus follows up this first activity with another demonstration in which he walks on the sea, although I am not sure why students were on a boat in the Sea of Capernaum to begin with. There was no need for a field trip to facilitate this task, and it could easily have been performed in lesson, perhaps with kinaesthetic learning aids such as a bathtub with shower mats.

At this critical juncture (when students should really be engaged in some kind of write-up by now), Jesus complains that his students seek him ‘not because [they] have seen signs, but because [they] ate of the bread and were filled.’ He is blaming the students for what is clearly a ‘reward culture’ that he himself has orchestrated. This is succeeded by further failed attempts at behaviour management, where he tells his students ‘do not murmur among yourselves.’ He also runs up into the temple with no starter activity, blaming students for not keeping the law, and then for apparently seeking to kill him. Bill Rogers gives a number of strategies for dealing with low-level disruption, such as pausing and giving a direction to a lone pupil, rather than taking on the whole class like this.

His handling of an off-task student named Judas is particularly insightful. In speaking to his twelve disciples, he does not praise all of them equally, and claims that ‘one of you is a devil.’ It would have been more fruitful to take Judas aside, ask him about his day, and try to uncover the causes of his misbehaviour – perhaps he is anxious about what the Pharisees will think of him for following Jesus. By reprimanding Judas in private, he could have built a positive relationship with him, instead of making inappropriate comments such as telling him to wash his feet.

Worst of all is his lack of inclusive pupil selection. He tells pupils that ‘no one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him’. I am not a big fan of hands up in lesson either, but I doubt that this is a useful method of taking contributions. My personal recommendation would be to draw lollipop sticks from a jar with pupils’ names written on them, or a ‘cold calling’ policy, as Doug Lemov advocates.

Jesus sets up yet another activity involving a woman who has committed adultery. It is unclear how this relates to the learning objective. He initiates the activity with ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ None of the pupils engage in the task, and no stones are thrown. If Jesus had wanted this to work, he could have sorted the students into three groups – one for picking out stones of an appropriate size, another for throwing them, and perhaps an ‘adjudication’ group, who would write a ‘What Went Well’ and an ‘Even Better If’ for the groups engaged in picking and throwing. Also, if he is planning on assessing students for this piece of work, where are the success criteria? Jesus fails to provide carefully-planned lessons for all learners.

While his Assessment for Learning requires work, his Differentiation is exemplary for all practitioners. In dealing with one blind student, Jesus spits in some clay and rubs it in his eyes. Though unorthodox, the learner is then able to see, becoming an active participant in the Learning Journey. Moreover, a student named Lazarus who dies mid-lesson, is ‘raised from the dead’, thereby allowing him to take part in the Last Supper activity. This is exactly the kind of differentiation all teachers should practise.

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