“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)