Mrs. Zajac Isn’t Coming Back

Mrs. Zajac wasn’t born yesterday. She knows you didn’t do your best work on this paper, Clarence. Don’t you remember Mrs. Zajac saying that if you didn’t do your best, she’d make you do it over? As for you, Claude, [hopefully] you should [n]ever need brain surgery. But Mrs. Zajac hopes that if you do, the doctor won’t open up your head and walk off saying he’s almost done, as you just said when Mrs. Zajac asked you for your penmanship, which, by the way, looks like you did it and ran. Felipe, the reason you have hiccups is, your mouth is always open and the wind rushes in. You’re in fifth grade now. So, Felipe, put a lock on it. Zip it up. Then go get a drink of water. Mrs. Zajac means business, Robert. The sooner you realize she never said everybody in the room has to do the work except for Robert, the sooner you’ll get along with her. And… Clarence. Mrs. Zajac knows you didn’t try. You don’t just hand in junk to Mrs. Zajac. She’s been teaching an awful lot of years. She didn’t fall off the turnip cart yesterday. She told you she was an old-lady teacher.[1]

Mrs. Zajac was only thirty-four years old, but she liked to call herself an “old-lady teacher.” Her hands were always in a flurry of busyness as she accentuated her words in front of the class. When they temporarily stopped and rested on her hips, her hands looked as if they were in holsters. She was a tough teacher, but her students knew she loved them.

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I see it from time to time in my children. I will be explaining something to them or relating some story, and they will interrupt, “No, Dad, that’s not what happened. No, Dad, it happened this way.” Sometimes they are right and Dad is wrong, but at other times they are mistaken and I try (gently, I hope) to correct them. But at times they will not budge. With dogged determination they insist that they have it straight.

I have a hunch that my children are not entirely unique in this regard: sometimes they have an unteachable spirit.

And I have a further hunch that this is not limited only to children: I can have an unteachable spirit too.

We must not confuse an unteachable attitude with having opinions or convictions. The two are not the same. We must be people of strong, biblically-based, confessional convictions. We must be bold to hold to those convictions without compromise. As a beloved professor put it once, we must not be “spaghetti-spined” but have backbones of steel.

What, then, does it mean to be unteachable? To put it bluntly, it means that I am a know-it-all. It means that I think I have everything figured out. It means that I never ask for help or advice. It means that I am not willing to listen to others and learn from them. It means that I am always talking, holding forth, pontificating. It means that when others offer a critique or a gentle suggestion for improvement I become surly and resentful and vindictive.

It means that I am proud.

The scriptures have something to say about this issue. James 1:19 says, “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak…” Proverbs 9:9 says, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.” Proverbs 10:17, 19 says, “He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth…In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Besides these few, there are a number of other passages in Proverbs that address the idea of being teachable.

What does it mean to be teachable? A teachable person is one that is aware of his limitations and is willing to acknowledge them. He is a person that is not afraid to ask for help or advice from others. He is a person that is willing to listen to others and learn from them. He is a person that is slow to speak. He is someone that is willing to receive correction and reproof. He is wise, and wants to grow in wisdom.

He is humble.

This is a virtue that every child of God must seek to cultivate. It is not just for church members in the pew, but for leaders and officebearers too. The only one who is unteachable is God. For the rest of us, we are very much in need of teaching. We must be teachable before the Word of God, but we must show ourselves teachable also in our interactions with one another.

What about you?

Are you teachable?

O come, my people, to my law
Attentively give ear;
With willing heart and teachable
The words of wisdom hear.
(The Psalter, no. 215, stz. 1)


This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.


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