The Personality of the Teacher
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
To be a successful Bible class teacher one must come to grips with the basic question: "how well do I get along with my pupils?" The answer to this question depends largely upon your personality. Your personality is very important. If it is not as good as you think it should be, you can improve upon it. There are two ways of handling this: you alter the goals or you alter yourself to meet the goals. In this writing attention is directed not to the goals of the teacher, but to the teacher's personality.
What Is Personality?
Few people understand the meaning of personality and its importance in the classroom. Some feel that personality is the kind of person one just happens to be, others have said that "it is being like others." Most important, many teachers do not realize the nature of their own short comings simply because they do not fully grasp the significance of the role of personality.
Dr. W. H. Burnham said "everyone knows what personality is, but no one can define it."1 Even though the definition is complex, most people will agree that personality "is the extent to which one is able to interest or influence other people.2 This means that your personality is the sum total of the qualities of character, mind and body that make you different from other people.3 It is a simple matter of human relations. It is the outward evidence of your inner qualities which determine your thoughts, feelings and actions in any given situation.- On this the Lord said, ". . . for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matt. 12:34). The Apostle Paul said, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8).
At this point extreme caution must be exercised. In addition to influencing others to think with us on things wholesome and right, the teacher's personality must be such as to develop habits and skills which interest and serve others. It's doing things with people, for people and even involves self-sacrifice.
Why Study Personality?
There are several reasons why one should give attention to the matter of personality:
(1) To bring about understanding: Someone has said, "to understand is to begin to cure." If the teacher has trouble getting along with people, if he cannot take criticism or suggestion, if he feels inadequate, then some facet of his personality must be changed. One is not born with personality in the sense that we are using the term. Personality is developed and acquired, not inherited. It grows continuously and can be altered to suit the demands.
Personality is not something that just happens. It is the definite result of cultivation as one goes on in life.4 Just as one must keep weeds and grass out of a flower bed, so one must eliminate undesirable elements in the realm of personality. The door of the mind must be closed to the evil things of life, to bad habits and questionable indulgences. Let the teacher look at himself with a view toward better understanding. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves" (2 Cor. 13:5). If a weakness exists, then correct it.
(2) It is a great asset: Next to the knowledge of truth (2 John 1, 4, 6, 9), personality is the greatest asset in the life of the Christian who teaches. It is the power with which one wins other people and inspires personal devotion in others. A positive personality is the "feather in the cap" of the Bible class teacher.
(3) Most classroom problems are people problems: Because of this, one must understand people in order successfully to teach. The clash of personalities is nothing new. In addition to knowing oneself, the other person must be given consideration. A teacher with a pleasing personality may be the center of argumentation resulting in classroom rowdyism. On the other hand, an irritating and belligerent student can suddenly become pleasant and cooperative. Personality definitely affects others one way or the other. This demonstrates the need for placing top priority on a working understanding of personality.
The more you understand personalities (including your own), the better you become in processing people problems in the classroom.
The Development of Personality
As suggested above, personality can be changed and altered. A poor personality cannot be the result of heredity in the sense that one inherits a good or bad personality. It is the result of our own outlook and response to things around us; this shapes our personalities. As Oliver Holmes said, "I am part of all that I have met."5 If one can learn to read, to write, and even speak by practice, one can also learn the skills of good personality.
Unlike our physical bodies which grow almost automatically, personality needs constant self-direction. Some of the areas needing attention are: sincerity, personal integrity, humility, courtesy, charity and wisdom.6 These characteristics should be a part of the Christian's life regardless of whether or not one is teaching (Phil. 3:1315; 1 Cor. 13; Phil. 4:8). These are musts in the life of the tutor. They are the necessary ingredients of a successful teacher. You may improve your personality by: 7
(1) Admitting that your personality can and should be changed. It was Harry Emerson Fosdick who said: "the beginning of a wise ambition lies in man's accepting himself as himself and not as someone else, and in trying to make the most and the best of that self and not another."
(2) Take an inventory of yourself. Personality wise, where do you stand? What are your weaknesses, your strong points and where in your life as a teacher, do you expect difficulty in making desirable changes? A simple method that will work if one is willing to apply oneself to it, is this (Suggested above, but not simplified):
(a) Awareness that your personality must be improved.
(b) Desire to improve your personality traits.
(c) Analyze your good and bad traits.
(d) Plan wisely and systematically for improvement.
(3) Be honest in your responses. Your results will be as accurate as your willingness to be candid with yourself.
Spiritual Expansion Necessary
The Bible class instructor's personality must be developed by spiritual expansion. The spirit and the personality of the individual must develop together. The inward man must he renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16; Col. 3:10). Through study, it grows and develops. Where there is neglect, it will regress (2 Pet. 3:18). Many are like those of Hebrews 5, "for when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat" (v. 12).
There is only one way to avoid this regression of personality based upon spiritual neglect. "One must be ever progressing in spiritual and intellectual processes of personality development; ever growing, ever reaching out toward that more perfect day of the truly full stature man in Christ Jesus."
The importance of this factor is seen in that we teach what we are! We must both do and teach. When the teacher begins to instruct a class on some Bible subject that touches upon morals, for example, he unconsciously portrays his own depth of spiritual involvement on this point. Even though the teacher may put great stress on the absoluteness of Biblical morality, his personal life as an example outweighs his teaching. It is as simple as, "I can't hear what you are saying because what you are doing is ringing in my ears." Many Bible class students are largely what their teachers made of them.
It is far better to select a teacher with less ability to teach, but with more devotion to God than one who is fluent but worldly. The teacher must demonstrate his love for God and His Word. He must be blameless and harmless as a child of God, holding forth the word of life (Phil. 2:14-16).
Fellow teacher, you have within you and about you all that you need to develop an outstanding Christian personality. You have God's Word, the possibilities of prayer and study, and all the tools one could desire in this day and time. Make your personality a tower of strength as it reflects the teaching of the New Testament. Begin now. "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few . . ." (Matt. 9:37).
1. Wm. H. Burnham, The Normal Mind (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1924).
2. H. C. Link, Rediscovery of Man (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938).
3. Guy P. Leavitt, Teach With Success (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co.), p. 22.
4. Wm. S. Deal, What Every Sunday School Teacher Should Know (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968), p. 42.
5. J. F. Carle, Developing Your Personality (Cleveland: Lincoln Extension Institute), p. 27.
6. Ibid., p. 43.
7. Some recommended works are: Psychology of Personality, by Ross Stagner, published by McGraw-Hill. The Scientific Analysis of Personality, by Raymond Cattell, published by Aldine Publishing Co.
8. Deal, op. cit., p. 45.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 43, pp. 5-7