I’ll soon finish my third year of fulltime teaching at Mars Hill University. I’m still surprised and grateful that, after nearly four decades in congregational ministry, I have the opportunity to do this work. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be giving and grading exams, receiving and reading papers, and meeting with colleagues to assess what we’ve learned from our attempts to help out students learn.
Though the academic year is ending, I feel like such a neophyte, novice, and beginner. I’m like a kid whose parents just took the training wheels off my bike. I’m a wobbly teacher! Try as I might to forge straight ahead, my path through a course is zig-zaggy; and, occasionally I fall down, skin my knees, scuff-up the bike, and climb back on to try again. Here are some of the tumbles I’ve taken this year:
I chose readings for a couple of my classes that were less helpful and engaging than I hoped they would be. I jettisoned a few of them and scrambled to put others in their place.
I took way too long to do early site preparation and framing in one of my courses; it was nearly midterm before we were actually building a house where insight might dwell.
I wrestled internally, but never resolved, with what to do about cell phones in the classroom. I stumbled over an absolute ban, since these students are adults; but I also tripped over how distracted (and, though I tried not to focus on it, how downright rude) some of them were.
I give myself a middling “B” for this year of teaching.
As I wobble along, I’m grateful for what I’m learning from those colleagues and students who speed by me on their sleek 10-geared bicycles, circle back to check on me and my plodding pedagogical pace, and encourage me as I try to get the hang of the practice of teaching.
As I keep pedaling over the summer, here a few balance-challenges I’ll be dealing with:
Making assignments that enrich learning more than enable grading.
Navigating equality and equity. Fairness and justice in the classroom (as in life) are not as simple as one-size-fits-all policies and practices. I’m trying to find my way through the choppy waters of, on the one hand, honoring the differences in where my students come from and the experiences they’ve had before they arrived in my classes and, on the other hand, have similar expectations for all of them. How do I reasonably and sensitively hold accommodation and accountability in creative and fruitful tension?
Teaching students and teaching subjects. Certainly, the content of a course counts, but what matters even more is the ongoing formation of personhood and character. I want to be sure my students have the knowledge and skills they need for the world of work, but I want also to create hospitable space in which they can tend to their preparation for life.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I owe my life to teachers. It’s simply an honest reckoning of a debt I will never be able to repay. Teachers reduced my ignorance by introducing me to a discipline or a craft or a body of knowledge. My best teachers did more: they never forgot that they taught human beings who had untapped potential, latent talents, and bright dreams. They believed that I could live a better and more meaningful life.
I owe my life to teachers. Now that I have the privilege of being one, I get to pay that debt forward.
That’s why I keep getting back on the bike.