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How to Teach a Text Class

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

I. The Teaching Objective

The teaching objective is the basis for the entire act of teaching. The first step, then, is to formulate that objective. “The clarification of the goal belongs at the beginning, for it is this which will determine the outcome” (T-17.VI.2:3).

1. Read and re-read the section

Honoring the parts. Ironing out little problems within sentences.

While doing that…

2. Gradually get a sense of the whole picture, the main thrust

How do the parts fit together? How do they come together into a single whole?

While doing that…

3. Take it into you, let it impact you, let it live in you

Assume that everything that is said is designed to address and change some element of your own personal thinking. Let it do that.

Out of all that…

4. Formulate your teaching objective: What do you want to have happen in them?

Take all of the above and adapt it to the needs of your students, to what is relevant for them.

There are levels to the teaching objective:

a. A clear idea (corresponds to point #2) that you want them to understand
b. An inner response to the material—a shift or change inside them (corresponds to #3)

Hold it lightly, be willing to modify it, allow things to happen that are outside this objective (as long as they are in keeping with the larger teaching objective of salvation).

But go in with a teaching objective. It becomes the basis for all your preparation before class and all your communication in class.

Exercise

The aim of our curriculum, unlike the goal of the world’s learning, is the recognition that judgment in the usual sense is impossible. 2. This is not an opinion but a fact. 3. In order to judge anything rightly, one would have to be fully aware of an inconceivably wide range of things; past, present and to come. 4. One would have to recognize in advance all the effects of his judgments on everyone and everything involved in them in any way. 5. And one would have to be certain there is no distortion in his perception, so that his judgment would be wholly fair to everyone on whom it rests now and in the future. 6. Who is in a position to do this? 7. Who except in grandiose fantasies would claim this for himself? (M-10.3)

1. Read and re-read

What particular parts (words, phrases, sentences) don’t you understand initially?

2. Gradually get a sense of the whole picture, the main thrust

What do you see as the main thrust of this paragraph?

3. Take it into you, let it impact you, let it live in you

What belief(s) in you is this paragraph trying to correct?

What happens in you when you try to let this paragraph correct those beliefs?

4. Formulate your teaching objective: what do you want to have happen in them?

II. Preparation

In spiritual circles, preparing for a class is often seen as a sign that you aren’t really living it—ideally, you are supposed to show up, open your mouth, and let the Spirit speak through you. My counsel is: Don’t be ashamed about preparing. If you want to do a good class, you’ll need to be prepared. All of the material below assumes that you are in the process of preparing for a class—meaning, you are not yet in class. We’ll cover the in-class part-presentation—next time.

GUIDING QUESTION: How do I accomplish my teaching objective?

All of your preparation needs to be guided by a single question: How can I accomplish my teaching objective? This question needs to shine down on everything you do. With each thing you prepare for, you need to ask yourself, “What is it for?” In other words, is this really for furthering the teaching objective? If not, don’t include it.

THEIR PRESUMED STARTING POINT: Where do I have to move them from?

Accomplishing the teaching objective means taking the students to a destination. But to get them to that destination, you have to know where to pick them up. This involves a guess based on past experience. But it is good to make this guess. Ideally, you not only know where you are taking them to, but where you are taking them from.

THE FOUR QUADRANTS

The four quadrants are the confluence of to axes:

  1. Aims: understanding the ideas vs. applying the ideas.
  2. Activities: you presenting vs. involving them.

The intersection of these two axes yields four quadrants:

I. You presenting an understanding of the ideas
II. Involving them in the understanding of the ideas
III. You presenting about applying the ideas
IV. Involving them in applying the ideas

  You presenting Involving them
Understanding I. You presenting an understanding of the ideas

(aims: clarity, variety, interest)

  • Be familiar with the material
  • Organizing the ideas
  • Straight explanation of ideas
  • Selecting key passages to comment on
  • Metaphors, analogies
  • Stories to illustrate the ideas
  • Writing on flip chart/white board
  • Diagrams
II. Involving them in the understanding of the ideas (aims: involve them in understanding, ascertain understanding, respond)

  • Handouts
  • Asking them questions—
    • Quick quiz (provoke thought and check out their understanding)
    • Discussion
    • Writing multiple answers on board
  • Discussion—inviting and fielding their questions
  • Break them into discussion groups which then feedback to the class
  • Homework
Applying III. You presenting about applying the ideas (aims: inspire, motivate, instruct)

  • Explain how to apply it
  • Comment on Course passages that explain how to apply it
  • Tell a story of application (maybe from your life)
  • Give an example of application (maybe from your life)
IV. Involving them in applying the ideas (aims: internalize, transform)

  • Take them through an exercise
    • Written
    • Internal (guided by your voice)
  • Have them share about the exercise, either in small groups or in large group
  • Homework

LIBERATION FROM QUADRANT I

You’ll naturally fall into the first quadrant being 90% of what you do. You’ll fall into endless “chalk and talk.” So, in your preparation:

  • inject variety and life into Quadrant I
  • make a point of developing and filling out the other three quadrants

Don’t worry about the details of each and every quadrant. Just try to think in terms of all four quadrants. Think in terms of not just explaining ideas, but involving them in the understanding of the ideas. Think in terms of instructing them in and inspiring them about application, and involving them in application.

Exercise

Let’s use the paragraph we used last month: M-10.3:

“The aim of our curriculum, unlike the goal of the world’s learning, is the recognition that judgment in the usual sense is impossible. 2. This is not an opinion but a fact. 3. In order to judge anything rightly, one would have to be fully aware of an inconceivably wide range of things; past, present and to come. 4. One would have to recognize in advance all the effects of his judgments on everyone and everything involved in them in any way. 5. And one would have to be certain there is no distortion in his perception, so that his judgment would be wholly fair to everyone on whom it rests now and in the future. 6. Who is in a position to do this? 7. Who except in grandiose fantasies would claim this for himself?” (M-10.3)

TEACHING OBJECTIVE: Judgment in the usual sense is impossible, is folly. (This refers to the judgments that we base our decision on.)

THEIR PRESUMED STARTING POINT: They think they can successfully make judgments for the decisions of their lives.

THE FOUR QUADRANTS:

Go off in pairs (three maximum) and come up with specific suggestions in each quadrant for how to accomplish this teaching objective for this paragraph. The goal is to come up with a maximum number of possibilities for each quadrant. Don’t worry about coming up with an actual plan at this point. We’ll have a time limit of four minutes for each quadrant.

  You presenting Involving them
Understanding I. You presenting an understanding of the ideas (aims: clarity, variety, interest) II. Involving them in the understanding of the ideas (aims: involve them in understanding ideas, ascertain understanding, respond)
Applying III. You presenting about applying the ideas (aims: inspire, motivate, instruct) IV. Involving them in applying the ideas(aims: internalize, transform)

HOMEWORK

Go off and prepare for actually teaching this paragraph. Then present it to the class.

III. Presentation

he act of presenting is a highly complex bundle of social skills. It is not something that can be learned overnight. It is a combination of talent, training and much experience. The key, I believe, is to see presentation as an act of leading the group to the teaching objective. That objective is a destination of the mind. Hence, you are essentially leading them on a journey of the mind to a destination of the mind. This leads to an overall metaphor for the act of presenting:

METAPHOR: A guide leading a group on a journey to a destination

Imagine that you are a teacher leading a group of school kids on a nature walk. Let’s say you are leading them along a path through grasslands, by a stream, and into a forest. At each point along the way, you’ll stop and have them observe certain things: rodents in the grasslands, fish in the stream, birds in the forest. The teaching objective is that they understand animal habitats in their local area. If they stick with you the whole time and pay attention, at the end of the trail they will reach that destination—they will have an understanding of animal habitats in their local area.

To get the kids there, this teacher will have to do a variety of things. She will have to do much more than speak clearly and articulately about fish and birds. She has to have a positive, caring feeling toward them, or they will not want to follow her. She has to want them to reach the objective, for her will is a great deal of what will hold them together and keep them with her. She has to constantly assess where they are at. Have some wandered off? Are they losing interest? Is Tommy putting a frog down Jane’s dress? And once she has assessed where they are, she’ll have to either give them reinforcement, because they’re in the right place, or get them back on the path with her, if they’re not. This is how you need to see the act of presenting.

See everything you do as an act of leading the group to the teaching objective.

Your class is on a journey of the mind and you are the guide. Everything you do as presenter should have this mindset behind it. The following six points are an attempt to flesh this idea out:

  1. GOOD PRESENTATION MECHANICS
  • Introduction—inform them of the destination
  • Pacing—get through your material on time
  • Speak clearly, engagingly
  • Eye contact
  • Be relaxed, confident
  • Concluding summary—tell them what they learned
  1. HAVE GOODWILL TOWARD THEM

It is important to exude a feeling of friendly, supportive goodwill toward them.

  1. WANT THEM TO GET TO THE TEACHING OBJECTIVE

Along with having goodwill toward them, you have to really want them to get to the teaching objective—to have the clarity and the experience you are aiming for them to have. You have to be almost willing the teaching objective into them.

  1. CONSTANTLY ASSESS (AND ACCEPT) WHERE THEY ARE

A good guide has to know where everyone in the group is. Are they following you? Have some wandered off the path? Have some fallen over a cliff?

  • Watch their faces and body language
  • Listen closely to their questions and comments
  • Ask for feedback from them

Watch and listen and ask for the following?

  • Are they interested (or even awake)?
  • Are they understanding it?
  • Are they resisting?
  • Are they cooperating?

The question, in short, is: Are they with you? They will constantly be wandering off, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. That’s just the way it is. You have to assess when and where they have wandered off. But you have to note this without becoming upset.

  1. WHERE THEY ARE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, REINFORCE THEM

If they are with you, if they are understanding properly, if they are having the shifts you want, you really want to reinforce that. Let them know they’ve got it. That can be every bit as important as correcting them when they don’t have it.

  1. WHERE THEY ARE OFF TRACK, LEAD THEM GENTLY BACK

If you are not willing to lead them, which means at times gently correcting them, they will not get to the teaching objective. They will wander off into the wilderness. Be willing to lovingly lead them when they have wandered off, not because you want to exercise power over them, but because you want them to reach the goal.

  • With their questions, try to answer two things: answer the uncertainty they are voicing and answer the distance from the teaching objective they are implying.
  • When they make comments, respond not just to the comment at face value, but also to its distance (or lack thereof) from the teaching objective.
  • When you encounter off-track questions, difficult personalities or would-be teachers, try to find a way to gently lead them and the class back to the task at hand: reaching the teaching objective.

IV. Holy Encounter

What you want to happen in a class is a holy encounter, in which you and your students join in the truth of what you are teaching. Yet to have this holy encounter occur, it cannot be an encounter between egos.

IT’S NOT ABOUT EGOS

  1. Concern with the self to the exclusion of the student

When you feel self-consciousness, self-doubt, embarrassment, and fear you are not doing your students a favor. You are actually showing them how little you value them. The Course speaks directly to this major issue:

The real basis for doubt about the outcome of any problem that has been given to God’s Teacher for resolution is always self‑doubt. And that necessarily implies that trust has been placed in an illusory self, for only such a self can be doubted. This illusion can take many forms. Perhaps there is a fear of weakness and vulnerability. Perhaps there is a fear of failure and shame associated with a sense of inadequacy. Perhaps there is a guilty embarrassment stemming from false humility. The form of the mistake is not important. What is important is only the recognition of a mistake as a mistake.

The mistake is always some form of concern with the self to the exclusion of the patient. It is a failure to recognize him as part of the Self, and thus represents a confusion in identity. (M-7.5:1-6:2)

What does that phrase “concern with the self to the exclusion of the patient” imply about how loving or healing this stance is?

  1. Anger over magic thoughts

The Course says, “God’s teachers’ major lesson is to learn how to react to magic thoughts wholly without anger” (M-18.2:1). What is anger over magic thoughts? It is getting angry at your students for getting off track, for straying off the path in search of something more attractive to their egos. Dealing with this is indeed the teacher’s major lesson. You will see this anger arise in you in subtle forms probably several times in each class. As the Course says, this anger can take many forms, many of which we would not ordinarily label “anger.”

Discussion question: When you see these two things happening in teachers, what is your reaction?

Writing question: When and in what ways do you see yourself falling into the first problem—concern with the self to the exclusion of the student—and also into the second problem—anger over magic thoughts? In your answer, please don’t include anything about the real truth or about the solution. Just include the ways in which you fall into the problem, for the pure purpose of becoming more aware of those ways.

IT’S ABOUT THE TRUTH

What you want is the truth in you and the truth in your students to join in the truth you are teaching.

  1. Coming from the truth in you, not from your ego

You are not here to make your ego look good-infallible, knowledgeable, witty, charming, etc. As the “truly helpful” prayer says, “I am here to represent Him Who sent me.” You’re here to represent something bigger than yourself. And in that process, you don’t matter. The more you can remember that you are here to represent Him Who sent you, and not yourself, the better. One component of this is to ask for guidance when you can during the class—especially when being asked long and important questions.

  1. Reaching past their egos to the truth in them

In class, you’ll be encountering your students’ egos constantly. You have to believe there is something past those egos, something that wants the truth, that is of the truth, something that is egoless. That is what you have to keep your eye on. You have to know it’s there, even when their speech conveys the opposite. The truth in them is almost like a target, and the truth you are teaching is like an arrow you are trying to get to the target. Yet in between you and the target is a dense fog—the student’s ego. Your job is to both see through the fog (in your mind’s eye) and actively clear away the fog (through the gentle and helpful way you talk to the student), so you can get that arrow into the target.

  1. Joining with them in the truth

If you can come from the truth in you and reach to the truth in your students, you can achieve the real goal of the class, which is for you and them to join in the truth you are teaching. We can envision what you are teaching as the forgotten song:

Listen,—perhaps you catch a hint of an ancient state not quite forgotten; dim, perhaps, and yet not altogether unfamiliar, like a song whose name is long forgotten, and the circumstances in which you heard completely unremembered. Not the whole song has stayed with you, but just a little wisp of melody, attached not to a person or a place or anything particular. But you remember, from just this little part, how lovely was the song, how wonderful the setting where you heard it, and how you loved those who were there and listened with you. (T-21.I.6:1-3)

At this point, it doesn’t matter if you were the one who heard the song first. At this point, the roles of teacher and student fall away, and you are just brothers joined in listening to the same sublime melody, loving each other and loving the song.

Writing question: What do you find helps you get out of the ego encounter mode and into the holy encounter mode?