the teacher as tour guide

I wrapped up my introductory comments on Genesis yesterday morning in class. Next week we begin in the actual text (1.1-2.4 to be exact). I shared with my students how one of the driving metaphors behind my conception of teaching is that of the teacher-as-tour-guide. I find it a compelling metaphor (for my own sake) and my experience is that when shared early on in a class, it can be quite compelling for the students.  I introduce the metaphor early and refer back to it often.  So in this way it becomes both governing metaphor and pedagogical device.

Here’s the gist of it:indianpks3

I think of myself as a tour guide, one who has been down this trail before.  Now as we journey together I want to call your attention to scenery along the way.  In a very real way I feel responsible for you.  I feel responsible to make your journey as full and as rewarding as I can by leading you competently.  But it isn’t enough to simply lead; at times I will get out of your way so you can experience the landscape and the sights for yourself.  “Step here, watch out there” is part of my job, but so is “linger here” and “take in the views there.” My job isn’t to make the journey for you (translation: throw the ‘answers’ at you…hoping you catch them all like I want you to).  Likewise, my task isn’t so simple as to wish you luck as you strike out on your own.  Both may be easier for me, but both are unfair to you.  Rather, my task is to walk before you as a guide and with you as a fellow journeyman.  I may have ventured into Genesis before, as some of you have, but we are making this journey together, now, and each of us will benefit from the other.  Are you ready? Let’s begin…


Again, my experience is that teens respond well to this sort of approach.  On the one hand, they want competent teachers and they can small a phony a mile away.  On the other hand they need to be respected enough to walk for themselves and not spoon-fed.  It really is a fine line to walk, and I’m no expert at it, but I feel strongly the approach has merit.  One of the other convictions back of my teaching is a confidence that God will speak through his word.  So, my emphasis is on exegesis, with strong attention to genre, and relevant background studies.  I see my task to be one of searching for the intent of the text in its own context(s) on its own terms.  Anything more, or less, than that is not only a disservice to my students, I think it betrays a lack of confidence that God meets us in the reading and study of scripture.

Furthermore, we do not only read scripture with our heads.  We read it with our hearts (whether we acknowledge it or not) and we ought to manifest in our lives the truth of scripture.   As to the practice of teaching…well, we should attend to our students’ hearts and lives, not just their brains.  A way proven–over time by many Christians–to purposefully attend to the heart and the life of faith is lectio divina.  My hunch is that most teens are not only capable of serious self-reflection and meditation on the biblical text, they are hungry for it.  Lectio isn’t the be-all and end-all, but as a strategy for spiritual formation it can be very helpful. We owe it to the next generation to be as passionate about their formation as whole people as we are their knowing right answers.  Sadly, too often what passes for ‘Bible study’ is little more than Bible trivia, speculation, or proof-texting for some lesser agenda.

We can do better than that.  My experience tells me that given a challenge, they will rise to it.  If our teens leave our youth groups and churches un-transformed, then who is to blame?  If we do not intentionally attend to their hearts and lives, who will?  If we do not show them there is a way better than another week of Bible trivia or consumerist youth ministry, they will soon grow bored and leave.  I don’t blame them, I’d leave, too.

I’m no expert on all this, but I have taught a few teens in my short years, and I think a strategy like ‘teacher-as-tour-guide’ has promise.  I’m suggesting we give our teens a little more credit than we sometimes do, treat them as if they have minds and can use them, and then model for them sound exegesis and faithful living.


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