Old teachers are better


Old teachers are better

My thesis is simple; older teachers make the best theological educators more often than not.

Oh, I know the arguments in the other direction – I have even used them myself when I was a young teacher. “Teachers” we are told “need to be close to the youth culture of their students.” “The old fellows cannot keep up with the new technological developments” (although why good teaching suddenly after two thousand years can only take place through IT is a mystery to me). “The challenges of this generation are so different from being a Christian in the previous generation.” As the saying goes, old teachers never die, they just lose their class.

So, perhaps it is time to say to all the youngsters teaching today in theological education that the above may well be true but, generally speaking, the older teacher is a classier act than the younger teacher. Why? Here are a few good reasons;

  1. We know ourselves better than we did when we were young. After all, we have been in close proximity to ourselves for many years and, however much we may have tried to fool ourselves, the truth has come out by now. So we are good at helping with the vital task of self-discovery, self-understanding, that is going on in the hearts of our students (and some younger lecturers).
  2. We have discovered the difference between wisdom and knowledge. We know that the average theological education experience for students is heavy on knowledge but only experience can bring wisdom. We have seen much and heard much. Every student is unique but, because of our experience with many students and colleagues, we may well understand you better and perhaps help you beyond knowledge to biblical wisdom.
  3. We tend to take more account of deeds than words in our spirituality. We have heard plenty of student pledges of dedication, thousands of hymns and choruses of total surrender sung. But we have not seen so many going out and getting on with the job of bringing in the kingdom, at real personal cost to themselves. We have heard plenty of talk about community by staff members but not always enough love shown to all.
  4. We are often gentle and kind. We have nothing much left to prove now. We have done most of what the Lord has asked of us, we are not hungry young academics with a research profile to create, people to impress and ladders to climb. There is more space to be gentle.
  5. We have usually become more tolerant and open. Life was very black and white when we were young, we knew how God worked and where he was not. But slowly, out of wider travel, encounters and surprising discovery, we have realised that it is more complicated than that. There is no need to abandon our theology to come to the place where we can say with Faber that “the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind” and with Philips that the God of our younger days was “too small”.

Now I had better stop before I go too far. All of this, and much more, can only be true if the older teacher maintains a lively mind and a loving heart – which does not always happen. Students can help here if we are open to them. As it is said, they make you old and keep you young, both at the same time. And I know that we need young lecturers to relate quickly to the situation of the students. I am really pleading for a mixed age faculty where we all share our own special riches.

But I stand by my thesis. Older teachers make the best theological educators more often than not.

And if you are reading this as a fresh young teacher, don’t despair, you too will be old one day and, if you keep your head and your heart in good condition, you will be an ever greater blessing to your students.

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10 Comments on “Old teachers are better”

  1. Andrew Wildsmith Says:

    Ah Graham, who among us really understood back at SBTC in the 1980s that we would in fact become old(er) one day? I think you are dead right in this posting as in others. Having turned 60 this year, become a grandfather, and served in Africa for the past 30 years, I can relate to your thoughts very well. Andy

  2. Hi Graham, a great read 🙂

  3. Drew Gibson Says:

    I wonder if it’s just me, or just our generation, or if it’s true more generally but I think people of our age are also more radical than the young people we teach. Maybe it’s our roots in the sixties. Maybe it’s because we’ve been there, done that and got the scars. Maybe it’s that we realsie that time is running out! I find that I often have to encourage my students to get angry or even just to care about more than their own ‘experiences’. I still want to change the world but too many of my students don’t. If I teach them nothing but just infect them with real passion for the Gospel and for people then I’ll be happy.

  4. jsawilson Says:

    ‘…if the older teacher maintains a lively mind and a loving heart…’ Good point. I remember an American pastor/theologian saying once that as we get older, there are two traps: one is to become hard-hearted and the other is to become soft-headed.

  5. pmwangi2008 Says:

    Even wine they say is better with age. From few years experience I buy your thesis. When I was very young in TE I was very strict today I have a smile on my face once in a while.

  6. Dayo Adewoye Says:

    I am young and not even an educator (at least formally), yet I agree with this. There is a wisdom that comes with age and experience.

  7. Danny Says:

    I was expecting “older” as in past centuries but I very much agree with your thesis. Younger Christians should seek out the fellowship of older saints for the same reason as well.

  8. Jocelyne Says:

    I disagree. I love having younger teachers. They’re more chill, understand us more, we learn better from them, they seem happier, have better teaching methods, and just seeing a young teacher in class makes me feel better. Now I’m not saying older teachers are bad because I’ve had great ones and funny ones. They’ve also had good teaching methods and seemed chill. Overall younger teachers are better. For example my older math teachers were terrible, but my young 23 year old was amazing. We all went from barely passing or failing to A’s and high B’s. Both young and old can be good, but students seem to feel more comfortable around the younger ones.

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