Jason Van Bemmel asks which one describes your teaching.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Watching “The Andy Griffith Show” is one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day. The DVDs from the library have the original sponsor spots which closed the shows. These old commercials are fun to watch, but one thing really bothers me: Andy Griffith pitched Sanka.

I love Andy Griffith.

I have Sanka.

Sanka is an example of what should never be done to coffee, and it has two particularly nasty qualities, which make it barely qualify as coffee:

1. Sanka is chemically decaffeinated.

2. Sanka is instant coffee.

Coffee should never be robbed of its stimulating effect. This is why most sensible people drink coffee. Steal the caffeine from coffee and you have lost the essence of what coffee is. The only worse thing you can do is to then freeze-dry the coffee so people can make it in an instant. Sanka is an attack on the essence of coffee. As much as I love Andy Griffth, it pains me to see him hawking this swill that no human being should be forced to drink.

Teaching is like coffee, and the same kinds of critical elements that make for good coffee also make for good teaching. The essence of coffee is to stimulate. John Milton Gregory says that the essence of teaching is to stimulate the mind of the student for self-activity. “The true stimulant of the human mind is a question, and the object that does not raise any questions will stir no thought.”

Compare for a moment the stimulating effect of Sanka with Starbucks. Drink Sanka and you are ready to fall asleep. Drink Starbucks and you’re ready to take on the world. So, the natural correlative question: What is the effect of my teaching on my students? Does it call for action, stimulate thought, excite the mind, get the life ready for response?

Good coffee takes time to roast and brew properly. Starbucks roasts their beans until the bitterness is gone and the complexity of flavors can be fully tasted.

If the beans are not roasted long enough, the bitterness of the raw bean remains and the complex and more subtle flavors cannot emerge. Yet even properly roasted coffee beans must be ground and brewed properly, too. Bunn coffee makers can brew a pot of coffee in just 2-3 minutes, but coffee grounds need to be exposed to hot water dripping through them for 6-6.5 minutes for ideal results.

Like good coffee, good teaching cannot be rushed. It takes time to stimulate students to inquire, discover, know, understand, appreciate and apply the complex truths we have to teach them. The bitter flavors of a rush to judgment, a quick and dirty answer, will dominate teaching that is rushed. The more subtle and complex flavors of contemplation, genuine understanding, appreciation, delight, discrimination, and transformation take much longer to emerge and can be overwhelmed by cheaper, easier, and less transformative elements if teachers do not have patience with the teaching process.

Good coffee is roasted and brewed carefully, with attention to detail and discrimination. Roasted coffee has over 1,000 flavor and aroma compounds. Only 30 of these make the best-tasting coffee. Likewise, good teaching must be careful and discriminating. The world is full of thousands of ideas. Most of them will not help students think God’s thoughts after Him. They will poison, rather than enhance, my students’ ability to live a life that pleases God. I must be careful not to confuse, overwhelm or dishearten my students. Good coffee can stand on its own, or it can be enhanced and enjoyed with a variety of flavors added to it. Starbucks comes in different roasts and brews and adding syrups and creamers makes it taste even better without obscuring the essence of what makes the coffee excellent. Cheap coffee, on the other hand, needs flavor enhancers to mask the cheap and bitter quality of the coffee.

Quality teaching also speaks for itself. It can come in a variety of subject areas (or “roasts”)— history, English, math, languages. Each, while varying from each other, can still be recognized as excellent teaching with the same core essence— stimulating the mind of the student to self-action, discovery and understanding with patience and discrimination. Teaching can be flavored with field trips, feasts, celebrations, videos, games, etc. These additions make excellent teaching even more enjoyable. Poor teachers may try to mask poor teaching with videos, games, and field trips, compensating for their lack of imagination or skill by adding lots of flavorful fun. This may amuse students, but it cannot really make up for the fact that the teaching itself, in its essence, is deficient.

Good coffee must be properly strong, as even quality coffee is not very good when it is too weak. The more coffee grinds you use, the more robust the flavors you can produce. Of course, you can also make coffee that is too strong to enjoy. Good teaching must also be delivered at the appropriate strength. Teachers need to be assertive, bold, joyful, and confident. We lead and guide our classes from a position of strength, not weakness. Of course, a teacher can be overbearing, overwhelming students and preventing them from being able to carefully express themselves, ask questions, discover truth for themselves, and exercise dominion over their piece of God’s creation.

Finally, when good coffee is brewing, it is enticing. The aroma of good coffee draws people to it—even people who don’t drink coffee. I have heard many people smell good coffee brewing and say, “I wish I drank coffee.” So also, good teaching should be enticing. It should attract students to the truth. It should make them want to have a drink from the fountain of knowledge. As our teaching entices students, we equip them to be life-long learners.

I believe that my students are looking for something to believe, for someone to follow. They want to be stimulated. The real question for me, then, is simple: What will we offer them— Starbucks or Sanka?