They Do Remember and It Does Matter

“They don’t remember what you teach them.  They remember how you made them feel.”

“They don’t remember content.  They remember relationships.”

“It doesn’t matter so much what you say, but more how you treat them.”

These phrases and so many more like them make their rounds in-person and on various social media platforms.  They are expressed with the intent of reminding people the value of relationships.  However, what they subtly communicate is the low value of content.

If you are a teacher, parent, or ministry leader – this should frustrate you.  It does me.

I’ve been told by people from small group conversations to main stage speakers at a conference that it doesn’t really matter what you teach students because they won’t remember most of it anyway.  I’m usually challenged to just ask a student what I taught the previous week and see if they remember.  Then that is usually followed up with asking them about an experience or a feeling and see how they remember that.  I know there is a lot of research and science behind how we remember and why experiences and emotions tie so strongly into that.  I’m not arguing with that.

My frustration is that people have pushed so strongly for the relational, experiential and emotional, that too often the content gets left behind.  Maybe when someone says, “They won’t remember what you teach.  It doesn’t matter.”, what they need someone to say to them is: “They do remember and it does matter.  If students don’t remember what you teach, you may need to teach differently.”

We could talk about learning styles and becoming an effective teacher.  However, there are people far more qualified than me to speak on these issues.  (Which is why I have linked a couple articles here.)

My point in writing today is simple: encouragement.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, small group leader, youth pastor, or a variation or combination of these roles, you need some encouragement.  Whether you are paid for your role in the lives of young people or you do so as a volunteer, you need some encouragement.  And whether you have a few weeks left of summer vacation or have already started a new school year, you need some encouragement.

So let me share some with you.

I don’t remember much about my Kindergarten class or the content I was taught by Mrs. Searl.  I do remember holding a colored piece of construction paper and following instructions while the color song played on a record player, the smell of paste and bringing a toy fire truck for show and tell.  And when it comes to elementary school, I have similar memories, mostly of class parties, recess, friends and some current events.

However, I am able to read and write English.  I don’t remember the lessons teaching me about each vowel and consonant.  I remember a little about diagramming sentences and grammar in junior high.  The skills and abilities I have in reading and writing today are built upon the foundational bricks that started with teaching me letters – even though I don’t remember those lessons decades later.

I was around church a lot during my childhood, but not consistently until I was a junior in high school.  So my memory of Bible-teaching is a combination of typical children’s stories and a few memorization challenges about the names of the disciples and children’s worship songs.  Yet those lessons provided a foundation for the more extensive and deeper learning I have done over the last twenty years!

So I’d like to take this moment to encourage you.  Hopefully this post has caused you to think back and re-live some fun childhood memories.  But more significantly, I want to encourage you that what you teach children will remember.  What you teach does matter.

Whether you are a teacher setting up a formal classroom to instruct children in basic knowledge about the world around us; a parent trying your best to raise children in this crazy world;  a volunteer who prepares games and lessons for a small group of students at your church or club; a professor or lecturer who instructs young adults at a college or university; or are the Children’s or Youth Pastor at your church; they do remember and it does matter.

We all need to be life-long learners so that we do the most effective job possible at our teaching.  There are good and bad ways to communicate no matter how important the content is.  And there are ways to become a better teacher no matter the age with which you work or the context in which you teach.

At the end of the day, it is about the content and all the emotional, experiential and relational elements.

So don’t be too hard on yourself if your 2nd grade student forgets what they learned today as you meet with their parents for a parent-teacher conference.  And don’t feel bad when a child from your Sunday school class, weekend program or small group only tells their parent about the game you played or the crazy thing someone else said instead of the important truth you taught from the Bible.  And don’t give up on choosing and developing quality content for your children’s or youth/student ministry because that doesn’t seem to stick.

You are making a difference in the lives of young people.  They’ll look back and remember at least some of this down the road.  But just because they don’t remember all of it, doesn’t make it significant and important.  After all, just because I don’t remember learning my letters in Kindergarten doesn’t mean I forgot that skill.  I’m extremely thankful to be literate today in part because decades ago Mrs. Searl took the time to teach me my ABC’s.  Even if I don’t remember her lessons.  My life has been impacted by them forever.  I do remember.  It does matter.

(Letter board picture by Dan Klimke • Used under Creative Commons License from https://flic.kr/p/5j1xwm)

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Creative: Make the Ordinary Unusual

Not too long ago, I sat in an airport and looked up at a row of clocks on the wall much like those in the photo here.

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(Photo taken by Marilyn M.  Originally posted here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/moomoo/1689209721/)

An idea had its seeds planted with that sight.

When I was younger, I watched the movie Dead Poets Society, where Mr. Keating challenged me to look with a new perspective.  Although I have climbed up on some desks to look at rooms differently, I now take this concept into everyday life.

A few years ago, a speaker talking about creativity challenged us to inspire creativity by finding unusual ways of doing ordinary things.  For example, if you normally drive the same route to work, take a different route.  (I did this one day and ended up driving around for over an hour!  That drive is still in my memory as I wandered and saw things I never normally see.)

Both of these concepts came together with the clocks.  As I sat there, I wondered how fun it could be to have a wall of clocks with fictional locations.

That idea sat in my OmniFocus app from April to July.  Then I prepared for a Wacky Weekend with the 5th-8th graders at my church and it resurfaced.  I used GroupMe to message a few of my friends in FourFiveSix for their favorite fictional locations, without giving them any explanation or context.

I then found six analog clocks at Target that were all the same style, with different colors for their case and hands.  I put each clock on a music stand on stage with a fictional location label for each.  In a room where students had recently pointed out that has no clock, we now had six!

When that weekend finished, I decided to let that creative, fun idea live on . . . in my office.  So, I now have my wall of clocks featuring fictional locations.  And most people who come in the room and hear all six clocks ticking away the seconds, do a double-take as they look up at the wall and see the labels.  I guarantee it inspires creativity!

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One more thing . . . I always loved when Steve Jobs would say those three magic words in a presentation.  He had saved something good for last.  I’m all about the fun of having fictional clocks for creativity, turning something ordinary into something unusual.  But these also have a practical use.

Although you can’t see it in the picture, and most probably don’t notice when they visit my office, each fictional location also represents a real location where I have friends or family.  When I’m sending a message or making a call, I need to remember what time it is for those in each location.  In my mind, I know what each represents.  But for the careful observer, that is easy for anyone to see . . . like a hidden scene after the end of credits in movies.

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So I leave you with this question: How can you foster creativity by making the ordinary unusual?