The Roles of Teachers and Learners

The Roles of Teachers and Learners

“Many people are reluctant to volunteer as teachers because they feel they ‘don’t know enough,’ when actually the chief requirement is a willingness to search.”


Learning through Questions
The role of the learner, as one on a quest, is to ask questions, and one of the teacher’s responsibilities is to use questions carefully and stimulate and encourage the learner’s reflection. The teacher must be a questioner as well, and certainly is in a position to accomplish the greatest learning. On the other hand, the role of the teacher cannot be that of someone with all the answers.

Many people are reluctant to volunteer as teachers because they feel they “don’t know enough,” when actually the chief requirement is a willingness to search, while enabling and organizing the journey that the whole group takes together as co-learners.

The Teacher Is . . .

A listener who is attentive enough to hear what the learners say, who is aware of what is unsaid, who responds without judgments that stifle, and who knows how to wait upon God.

A translator who puts the words of the church into language that is understandable and images that are recognizable to the learners. “What is the meaning?” is the foremost question.

A custom designer who tailors the curriculum for a specific moment to fit a specific group of learners by being aware of their interests, skills, and experiences, and by planning and organizing their time together.

A pacesetter who provides a setting and an opportunity to learn within a trusting and respecting community of explorers that cares for and accepts one another, who presents something to pique the learners’ curiosity and stir up their questions.

Questions are Useful . . .

For information to recall specific facts, to seek data, or to determine what has been understood. Some questions require correct answers, although the closed nature of such answers tends to limit discussion. At the same time, too many of such questions create a testing, competitive atmosphere where learners can be put on the defensive.

For analysis to stimulate thinking further, to lead to conjectures, to dig for reasons, to evaluate a situation. These questions offer the possibility of several responses. Additional questions may follow naturally. “Why . . .?” and “What do you think . . .?” can initiate them. But if thoughts are belittled, judged, or contradicted by others in the group, open expression becomes reluctant or stifled.

For personal reactions to identify with, or to relate something to one’s own life, as guides to discover values, to make decisions, to reflect. Answers will be interpretive, and might include “What would you have done . . .?” or “When have you ever felt . . .?” But it should be noted that many such questions do not contribute automatically to the learning of the whole group. To avoid invasion of privacy, reserve the learner’s right to delay an answer or to be silent.

The above excerpt is from The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education, 3rd edition by Sharon Ely Pearson & Robyn Szoke (Morehouse Publishing, 2009).


Sharon Ely Pearson is an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI). She is the author/editor of several books, most recently The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook and Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century. When not traveling for work or pleasure, she enjoys tossing tennis balls to her year old black lab, Chobe.


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