Years ago a Sunday-school teacher, looking at one of her pupils, asked him a question. “I see you’ve had a haircut. Did your father put a bowl on your head?” Both the words she spoke and the tone of her voice had their effect—permanently. I was the boy. I cannot remember anything else she ever said. She had cut me off from her ministry forever. She was a memorable teacher, certainly, but for very wrong reasons.

When I think of good teachers, two examples come first to mind. One is Jesus, the master teacher. The other is Mark Hopkins, president of Williams College in the mid-nineteenth century, who was described in the well-known tribute by James Garfield as “a true teacher” (“Give me a log hut, with only a simple bench, Mark Hopkins on one end and I on the other, and you may have all the buildings, apparatus and libraries without him”). Neither of these teachers taught in an air-conditioned room equipped with blackboards and film projectors and tape recorders. Useful as such things are, it is the teacher, not the teaching aids, that really counts.

There are generally three places where pupils and teachers come together: the home, the school, and the church. Virtually everyone is at some point a teacher, and all are at some point students. Most people never teach in a school or a church. But most people become parents, and as such they are teachers. How can they be more like Hopkins, an opener of minds, than like my Sunday-school teacher, a closer of minds?

Many years ago John R. Mott in a book on missions laid down four cardinal principles of preaching. They are equally applicable to teaching.

1. The teacher must lay before the student the principle that he or she wishes to communicate. It might be the proposition that God is ...

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