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Whenever a Bible Teacher Makes a Mistake

February 21, 2014

1aA Bible educator must be honest and transparent.

Simply put, students want to see an example in their teacher, meaning it’s as much of what I do as what I say.

That also means when we mess up, we need to be ready to apologize and make it right.

Such a situation happened to me more than once – this one comes to mind almost immediately.

The month of January had been miserable – a dark, wet, and chilling treadmill of endless days trickling dully into weeks. Christmas vacation hangover was still throbbing throughout the class, even though it had been over for over half a month.  I was involved in numerous counseling sessions.  Callie had continual headaches, wanting to move back to her old home town in Virginia.  Karl was caught more than once trying to start fights.  Andi was crying to me because three other girls who were former BFFs were now in a vicious circle of gossip, and she wanted to transfer to another class.  The skies were continually gray and listless, and the monotony seeped into my room.  Students wore their coats into the classroom, propped their chins on their hands and wiped their noses continually.  We were going through Kleenex at an insane pace.  The pupils’  nasal drainage seemed to parallel the doldrum pace of the January days.   Drip. Drip. Drip.

The students were dull-eyed and slothful. It appeared to me that they were giving up, an unacceptable path to take in Bible class.  Slowly but surely their notes became sloppy, their speeches became listless and their quiz grades became pathetic.

And on one day I hit my limit.

I was grading the ten-point quizzes and I could not find even one student who had a passing grade.  The average number correct was two.  I marched to the front of the room and blew up.

“Look at this mess,” I said, dropping the whole pile of papers on the floor, scattering them everywhere.  “These papers aren’t even worth picking up.  This is an embarrassment to you and to me.  Are you giving up on me?  Are you giving up on yourselves?  Because I won’t allow you to!  Do you understand me?

Jim looked down at his pencil and toyed with it, frowning hard.  Carol looked out of the window and bit her lip.  Mike lowered his eyes.

I knew I had been unfair.  I had pushed it too far.

I gathered myself together, picked up the papers and continued the lesson, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it wasn’t their learning, it was my teaching. 

After the class, I strolled down the hall and prayed, earnestly asking the Lord:  How can I change my style?  What will be effective to get them through this gray area?

I looked to the right.  There was an open door to a small room.

I knew I had my answer.

In those days, the school had a sort of kick-out room that was a gathering place for all sorts of unwanted gear.  Anything in there was fair game for teachers to use.

I looked at the playground balls, old blankets and construction paper.  Nah.

Then I found the Leftover Refrigerator.

Excitedly, I opened it up and saw just what I needed.  There, in all its glory, was a castaway from a previous week’s banquet.  A whole five gallon bucket of ice cream that nobody wanted.

Excitedly, I gathered plastic cups and found a serving spoon in the kitchen.  I couldn’t wait for the next day’s New Testament class.

On that day, the students trudged in and plopped down.  The bell rang.

Andrew raised his hand.  “Look, Dr. Zockoll, we’re really sorry about yesterday…”

“No, the apology is mine, sir, ” I said.  “I realized that a little incentive is needed, and it’s my responsibility to come through with the needed push.  So let’s get started.  What is the theme of the book of Matthew?”

April raised her hand.  “The King of the Jews.”

“You are right!” I cried, and I pulled the ice cream bucket from behind the podium, dumped two scoops of Neapolitan into a cup, slammed in a spoon and ceremoniously handed it to her.  “You have the first incentive reward!”

She gave a squeal of delight.  “Wait,” said Matt.  “Uh, um… the theme of the book of John is the ‘Son of God’.”

“Right you are, sir!” I exclaimed as I smacked an overflowing cup of ice cream on his desk.  He dove into it. Everyone was wide-eyed.

“I know! I know!” shouted Andrew.  “Psalm 22 is known as the Messianic Psalm!”  He chortled in glee as he got his ration of ice cream.  Everyone was calling out, laughing as they did.

“Philemon is about forgiveness!”

“The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20!”

“Relativism denies the existence of universal truth!”

I was giving my best impression of a soda fountain server of the 1950s as I slung cups of ice cream right and left, waiting to hear a fact and nodding as I served.  “Whoo, this is good,” cheered Autumn.  “Can we get seconds?”

“Give me another fact,” I challenged her.

“Revelation 20 tells you about the Book of Life and the judgments.”  She got another scoop.

The rest of the hour was glorified mayhem.  Students will ice cream moustaches were standing up and calling out.  Everybody got at least two cups full, and I got more intellectual feedback from the pupils than I had all year.  Finally the tub was empty.

“You did it,” I said.  “You earned every scoop.  Listen, I want to apologize for being overly harsh to you yesterday.  It’s just that I want you to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you!  Jesus Christ gave you a spirit of a sound mind, and I want you to use it to your full capability.  But I will try to be more patient as we study.”

“Oh, by all means, be pushy,” said Andrew, waving his spoon.  “Just follow it up with Rocky Road next time, okay?”

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