A Lesson on the Prophets

As a middle school teacher, I rarely raised my voice to my students.  Throughout the years I discovered many other strategies that kept my classroom humming.  So, one day, when I started barking orders at my seventh grade religion students, they were caught quite off guard. 

"Do NOT eat potato chips at lunch today!" I practically yelled at them.

"Your bodies need good food and vitamins!" came my second attack.

"Start packing nutritious food so that you keep yourselves healthy and well!" I snarled.

And then I let them sit in silence, taking in what I said and, obviously, the tone with which I delivered the dictates.

"Now tell me," I began in my normal voice, "did I say anything that wasn't true?" 

Slowly, one by one, the students began raising their hands.

"No, Mrs. Dickow, everything you said was true but you were sort of mean about it."  offered Susan.

I smiled, "Okay, I was mean.  But did that make what I said wrong?"

"No, Mrs. Dickow, it didn't make it wrong but it made me not want to listen," Nicole said in a voice barely above a whisper.

"Really?  Why not?" I queried.

"Because no one wants to be yelled at, even if what they are being told is right," Jason answered.

 A number of kids nodded their heads in agreement, no doubt thinking of some recent situation in which they had received the ire of someone, probably a parent, saying things that they knew to be true.

And so began our unit on the prophets.  For five or six years previously I struggled with delivering material that I found exhilarating, but my students were under-whelmed, to say the least.  This particular year I was anxious to try my new tack to draw them in and, as the class period wore on, I felt confident that the kids got the message:  Prophets were God's messengers sharing things that needed to be said even if it was in a way that no one wanted to listen. 

That didn't make the message wrong.  Whereas students of previous years always felt that they would have listened to the prophets, this group was clearly understanding why the prophets were often ignored.  None of us likes to hear how we need to improve and yet God wants us to improve all the time.  He provides many growing opportunities along the way and it is up to us to gain wisdom from one situation and apply it to the next.  The prophets were God's instruments of messages from heaven. 

Consider Jeremiah.  Like all prophets, Jeremiah's task was especially burdensome.  Jeremiah lived after Isaiah and Jeremiah delivered what I have always felt to be some of the most comforting words in Scripture:  Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Jeremiah 1:5a.  I encouraged the students to think of this love that God had for each and every life that began with Him even before its human conception.  What a beautiful message for kids who struggle with their self-worth, peer pressure, and the general angst of growing up!  What was cool about Jeremiah, I told my students, was that he didn't care about people's reaction to what he said.  God gave him a job and he did it to the best of his ability.  Jeremiah really was a hero.

We also talked of other prophets, some able to have a larger impact on the kids than others.  Overall, I knew the unit had been a success on many levels and found out that my initial "attention grabbing" lesson had made a very large impact when the day of the test came and for fun I put in the following question:

Who is NOT a prophet? 

•A)    Jeremiah

•B)    Ezekiel

•C)    Mrs. Dickow

•D)    Joel

•E)    Daniel

And one of the students picked Joel and put a smiley face next to his answer!

Cheryl Dickow


Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    You sound like a great teacher.

  • Guest

    I guess the analogy doesn't seem right to me. Sure prophets are hard to listen too. But where is the problem? Is it with the prophet or with us? In your illustration it was with the prophet. Sure that might be the case sometimes. The reality is the problem is more often with us. So we do assume we would have embraced their teachings if we would have been in Isreal. Of course we would not have been one of those people ignoring the poor. Why? Because those guys were sinners.


  • Guest

    Thank you, Claire!  I have to admit that over the years I had loads of fun and it is my prayer that, God willing, I planted a seed here and there. 

  • Guest

    This article really resonated with me. So often as parents, how we present information to our kids makes a difference in how well (or even whether) they hear it. Whispering helps. Shrieking does not. (I happen to know this through personal experience.)

    I'm with Claire. You DO sound like a great teacher.

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    So we do assume we would have embraced their teachings if we would have been in Isreal. Of course we would not have been one of those people ignoring the poor. Why? Because those guys were sinners. 


    I am sorry that you seem to have misread this short article.  I can say with all certainty that my students were very aware that the "fault" was in the listener and not in the speaker.  But as Heidi points out, the delivery of important messages is critical and maybe the results would have been better had the prophets spoken in a different way.  However, as Heidi also mentioned, screaming does seem to be involved when stakes are high or nerves are frayed; both would certainly have been applicable to the prophets. Regardless, my students walked away with a better sense of what happened between God's people and the prophets.

    Additionally, let me say that when Christ said, "The poor you will always have with you," He was not just speaking to the people of His day but to you, RandyGritter, and to me.  He knew, as He knows all things, that you and I will continue to fall short on how He has called us to take care of others.  He knew we might contribute to funds for the poor, donate clothes, even work foodbanks; but ultimately we don't sacrifice to the degree necessary so that there will be no more "poor."  So, with all due respect, I believe that it is only with great caution that we can put on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and know how we would have responded to the prophets.  We still are NOT responding, in all honesty, to the ways in which Christ has called us regarding every aspect of our lives and we have the benefit of knowing the end of the story: Resurrection!

  • Guest

    While I agree that Ms. Dickow seems to be a very effective teacher, I think I'm with Randy Gritter on this one. The very job description of the prophet John the Baptist was to be a voice crying out in the wilderness, not a gentle voice softly reminding us to be nice.

    And, although He is not a prophet, but THE Prophet, didn't Jesus raise His voice in Matthew 14 (the "Woe" Chapter) when He repeatedly called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs, a brood of vipers and so forth?  And don't we suppose He probably shouted as He cleansed the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers?

    Plus, if the Shroud of Turin is accurate, Jesus was about 5'10", much bigger than the average man during the first century. He commanded attention, maybe even big, loud attention.

    We certainly don't think that if only John the Baptist or Our Blessed Lord had delivered their messages differently, maybe the results would have been better.

    And what's wrong with eating potato chips at lunch?

    Anyway, I did enjoy the article and will probably use the learning technique down the road.  Thank you.

  • Guest

    For an article that was just meant to share a bit of insight into teaching 7th grade middle school students and some fun I felt we had in our classroom, I am, respectfully, surprised at how this has been taken apart.  But then I am reminded at how often others second guess a teacher…and how difficult that makes it to be an effective teacher.

  • Guest

    Rock: You can't honestly be suggesting that Jesus' primary mode of delivery was shrieking into the wind?! While He did admonish the deliberately blind, He is most often recorded conveying truth by means of … parable. Storytelling, accompanied by miracles. And his most powerful and redemptive work was not what He said, but what He did … on Calvary.

    In truth, both the prophet and the teacher is needed. The former when the latter is ignored or otherwise silenced. Food for thought.

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    Mrs. Dickow,

    It seems as though you came up with a wonderfully creative way to introduce a difficult and complex subject to young adults. Great work!

    Your job, obviously, was simply to introduce students to the prophets and pique their interest to know more.

    I would say you succeeded admirably.

  • Guest

    A corrolary to Cheryl's idea–and one that I've always assumed Jesus used–is that the best way to get attention is to lower your volume.  How many times have we been in a group of talking people and suddenly realize we're all shouting just to be heard above the others? 

    As a mother, there were times when I shouted and even screamed: when my daughters were in danger, or when they were putting someone else in danger.  But, when I was angry–or had some extremely important information to convey–I learned early that the shouting is not heard.  They can–and do!–"tune you out".  However, when I lowered my pitch and/or my volume, they had to stop doing whatever they were doing (including ignoring me!) to hear what I was saying.  Remarkably, both girls have adopted the same tactic……perhaps because it works.

  • Guest

    (My apologies for misspelling "corollary".  My bad!)

  • Guest

    I can't resist putting in my two cents.  As a mother of six and a high school teacher, (struggling – and failing- to be "perfect" all these many years,) it finally dawned on me that we all have different learning styles – and therefore, different teaching styles.  We teach pretty much the way we ourselves learned best. My teaching style, though different from many, resonantes with many students.  It also turns a few students off.  I happen to be the loud and dramatic type – but the students are never in doubt that I have their best interest and learning at heart. None of us can reach every student – neither could the prophets.  Children neither suffer nor miss the message just because it is delivered in a way they are not accustomed to.  They learn how to adapt – and many have thanked me for it over the years.

  • Guest

    I LOVED THIS 🙂  first, it's great that you don't normally raise your voice.  Second, you did something out of the ordinary and creative, that drove the lesson home

    Having been a student and a teacher, I just loved this 🙂  made me smile.

  • Guest

    The people taking apart your article often do this kind of thing to women.  I don't mean them in particular, it just seems easier to criticize women who open themselves up, with important info to share.  For some people that is.  People just want to 'hear' themselves on the internet, to see their voice…

    I don't know that John the Baptist shouted so much, unless he was on a rock in the water…but his message so jarred people (the essence of shouting) that he was murdered.  Potato chips are quite bad for you, research them.

    When you're reaching children, which 7th graders are, and not 'young adults' (the libraries like to classify them as that, but they're not),  you need to adapt your technique.  It feels so good when something works, and yours did.

    Another teacher taught me not to raise my voice at times, and it helped. 🙂

  • Guest

    My apologies for the apparent offense taken.

    I must have done a poor job communicating my message because my basic message was to agree that Ms. Dickow seems like an effective teacher, that I enjoyed the article and that would probably use the teaching technique down the road. I am also a teacher and try to present each lesson's material in a manner which includes touching on all four Kolb learning styles.

    My words were not meant to suggest that "shrieking at the wind" was Our Lord's primary method of spreading God's message to "repent and believe the good news." I don't think scripture's reference to "a voice crying out in the wilderness" is at all like "shrieking in the wind" if that is how my comments were taken. I still stand by my comments on the usefulness of being a loud and annoying voice of a prophet. Indeed, sometimes that is the whole idea.

    Regarding parables, I would add that a close reading of the gospels shows that Our Lord's use of parables as the primary method of teaching begins — not on the Sermon on the Mount — but only after the scribes and the Pharisees conspired to find something against Him. Parables are not just simple stoires for illiterate peasants; they are also a way to safely and effectively tell hard truths to the powerful (witness Nathan's parable of the poor man's lamb to King David after the Uriah incident)

    My further apologies for being a man.  I can't help that!

    Plus, I happen to enjoy the occasional potato chip with lunch. But I'm open to reform there.