“But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” Matthew 13:8-9.
It all starts with the dirt. Break it up, fertilize it, water it just so; nothing is going to grow well without good soil. The hardiest plant cannot prosper without the proper soil. The hardiest child will find it difficult to thrive without a good home and a good church and a good school. God can still grow a plant with a less than perfect soil, but it will take more work. God can still do amazing things with a child with a poor home or church or school, but it will take a lot more love and effort. I cannot control the home or church, but I can provide a great classroom.
Make your classroom pleasant. Just as rich soil helps the produce, a good classroom environment is a critical ingredient in the dirt foundation for successful learning. Decorate for the seasons. I like to make my room look more like a professional living room. Yes, there are desks in orderly rows, but there are also pictures for beauty and posters to motivate on the walls. In the fall, we add autumn colors; in the winter, there is snow in the windows; spring should be full of life and color. I like to paint the room a warm, homey color, and I’ve even added a little academic wallpaper. Pay attention to things like lighting, temperature, and cleanliness. Ignore these details, and they will express themselves in distracted, lethargic learners who underachieve because their teacher was not careful to condition the soil; promote them and you will be pleased with the thriving product that will grow with so much less effort on your part.
Another important ingredient in the soil environment is productivity. The primary purpose of your classroom must be learning. Nothing satisfies the student more than accomplishment. Use every tool available to keep the soil prepared and fertile. Vary your style of teaching methods as the farmer varies crop rotation lest the soil become exhausted. Teach to the eyes, ears, hands, and every sense that you can apply to your lesson. Use the lecture, and the visuals, and use the discovery method to help students master the material. Use a little fertilizer: sprinkle in a little fun with review games and challenges; mix some special days and events, like a hat day, or the 100th day, or Spirit Week; add a little humor and your soil will be a rich environment. Students will look forward to coming to your room when it is a center of accomplishment. Stay focused on promoting knowledge and wisdom and you will see a bountiful crop indeed.
The next element in good classroom soil is proper classroom discipline. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child,” so I do not expect perfection; but I do expect my students to act politely, responsibly, and respectfully. Proper conduct should be rewarded; improper conduct must be corrected. Correction should be hierarchical and consistent. A good teacher will have a collection of tools appropriate for the occasion. Praise and reward are essential tools. Reward can be as simple as an encouraging word and progress up to even a gift card to a student’s favorite snack shop. It can be public or private and should be some of both (private sin, private rebuke; public sin, public rebuke). Improper conduct must be discouraged and corrected. There are many tools that every successful teacher will master: the dirty look, the silent pause, verbal correction, isolation, parent involvement, and more. Ratchet up the correction as a student refuses to properly respond until he corrects the offending behavior. I generally use a baseball tradition as a pattern. Strike one—verbal correction; strike two—separate the offending student from his crowd of supporters, and strike three—eliminate the source of the problem. This could be a parent contact to enlist help, or it could be an appropriate detention. Try to make the correction fit the crime. There is generally no need for anger. As a student matures, he needs to be weaned from teacher-directed discipline to self-directed discipline. Teach a child “why” a behavior is expected. Let him learn from public and personal examples that bad behavior causes grief, and good behavior yields reward. Encourage a student to use pre-determined Bible principles to direct actions, rather than react to circumstances. Help your pupils understand that all behavior, good and bad, will ultimately be rewarded or punished by the standards God Himself has taught us in the Holy Scriptures. Our ultimate goal is that a student should do right when no one is looking, even if it is not popular or immediately rewarded. Stay balanced with your approach and use encouragement as much or more than discouragement. Most students will be more motivated by “sugar” than “salt.” A new day is a new start, but if a student has a history of the same misbehavior, then the correction intensifies accordingly. When done properly, the student will understand he is simply “reaping what he has sowed.” Proper classroom discipline is a critical ingredient to the good soil in a good environment.
Above all, your classroom must be permeated with unconditional love. Love every child and find a way to win his heart. Every child must feel accepted regardless of his “goodness” or misbehavior; every student must know that he is important to you and that there are no “favorites.” Every day is a new day, and yesterday’s misbehavior has been erased; the slate is clean to be “good” today. I am not eliminating good discipline. I am simply saying that once a penalty has been paid; it is over. God deals with me that way. I should therefore, follow that example. Love will be exemplified in your actions. Do you know your students as well as your curriculum? Do you offer help for the confused or underachiever, challenges and reward for the overachiever? Do you empathize with the child who is sick or troubled? Do you even know who has some handicap or learning disability? Do you know that your student was at the hospital all night with Grandma who is dying of cancer? Do you pray for and sometimes with your children? To love twenty or more children at the same time for 180 days a year is an awesome task that God alone can help you accomplish. I often pray, “Lord, please fill my heart with love, and then help me to give it all away today. Add love to your classroom soil and you will have a thriving garden.
With good dirt, you will have good, healthy plants; with a good classroom environment, you will have good, happy students.
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Jim Carey was the first staff member hired by Pastor Trieber in 1976. For over 40 years, he has served in many capacities. He has taught in the Christian school since its inception and has taught junior church every Sunday for that entire time as well.