Teaching Is Fundamentally an Invitation to Love

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Some time ago, a friend asked for advice as he will be teaching for the first time this year. Here was my response: The root of my teaching philosophy is the shema. I say it like this:

Teaching and discipling is fundamentally an invitation to love.

Love your students (i.e., your neighbor); love the best things in life (i.e., the Lord your God); and most especially, love the best things in life in the presence of your students. That love is contagious.

It is like C.S. Lewis said about bad fiction writers. If you have to tell your reader what to feel, you’re doing it all wrong. You need to awaken that feeling in them. Augustine said that our affections, our loves, are like a gravity to our souls. This is true. As Jonathan Edwards said, you always choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment of choice. It is an inescapable motion of the soul to move toward that which it loves.

The best teachers foster strong inclinations in their students toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful within their own subject (and toward all that is good, true, and beautiful more generally). The fostering is produced by example and propagation, rather than by moralizing or telling the students they should love your subject.

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We’ve all experienced bad young preachers who, we can all tell, don’t really care deeply about the Word, or haven’t thought deeply about the Word in a way to have their own affections moved and ordered by it. They are the preachers who are constantly telling their audience, “Isn’t that exciting!!” or “How awesome, man!”

So always remember that love is the greatest of these. Love your subject. Love your students. And love your subject in the presence of your students so their souls are ordered according to your love for that subject.

Another way to say it is: If you don’t care, they won’t care.

I would strongly encourage you to read or reread C.S. Lewis’ “Men Without Chests” from The Abolition of Man before you begin. Read it with an eye toward teaching and parenting. It is one of the most profound and timely pieces Lewis ever wrote.

Jesse Van Der Molen

Jesse holds a BA in English and an MA in Theology, is the father of four, husband of one, and teaches college English classes at Des Moines Christian School where he also shepherds about 25 Latin students.