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  • Pete Ryder

What I Learned One Morning in Remedial Math Class

I’m a substitute teacher sometimes. One day last fall, I was filling in for an intervention specialist at the High School, and I started off as an aide in a remedial math class. I met the lead teacher and as she explained what the lesson was going to be, I began to realize that I was probably in over my head. I don’t remember the terminology for the lesson that day, but there were fractions and x’s and y’s and diagrams, all sorts of fun things! I had taken (and gotten A’s in) advanced mathematics in high school, but that was a long time ago!


The students filed in and the teacher walked them through their homework, then began to teach the lesson for the day. At first I was lost. Not only was I hazy about what was being covered, but they were going about the problems in a way that I’d never seen before. I resisted the urge to raise my hand and ask questions. I knew I was expected to help the students after the lesson had been taught, so I paid very close attention! After going through several examples and listening to the kids’ questions and the teacher’s answers, I started to at least get the gist of things. When the assignment was given, I roamed the room, asking students if they knew what they were doing, or if they were lost somewhere in the process. I tried not to let on that I was pretty lost myself!


Now, I’m not bragging or anything, but by the end of that class period, I probably could’ve gotten a solid C+ on that homework assignment!


That experience reminded me of something that’s true in many aspects of life: You can’t teach others what you haven’t first learned yourself.


I’ve always loved the passage in Deuteronomy where we are instructed to teach our kids about the ways of God…


“And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7


That’s an awesome passage that underlines the responsibility for parents to take advantage of opportunities throughout their days to teach their children what it means to live for God. But did you notice that before we ever teach our kids, we need to “commit ourselves wholeheartedly” to obeying God’s commands in our own lives!? We can’t teach what we haven’t learned ourselves, what we haven’t lived. We can’t pass on our experience with God to anyone else if we haven’t really experienced Him much in the first place.


Author Rod Rogers puts it this way, “You cannot lead people where you have never been. You cannot impart what you do not possess. You cannot preach with power what you are not practicing with integrity.”


I think that there may be some well-intentioned people in churches across the globe who are trying to impart wisdom that they ‘do not yet possess.’ They aren’t truly living in the ways of Jesus, ‘committed wholeheartedly’ to following Him, so there’s no way they’ll be able to effectively lead anyone else to do so. They may want their kids (or friends or extended family) to grow in their relationship with God, but without truly living it themselves, devoting time and effort to knowing Jesus intimately, they’ll never be able to pass it on.


Now, unless I hear differently from God, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to school to pursue another degree…but I don’t want to ever stop learning. I love to learn more, grow deeper, and broaden my horizons, not just for my own sake, but so I can pass it on to others. Most of all, I want to always be learning and growing in my relationship with God. Then, as God brings people across my path, I might just be able to help them know Him too. And I can’t pass on what I haven’t experienced myself.


And believe it or not, that’s one of the things I learned one morning in remedial math class.

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