I'm turning in a 17-page reading log today for my Teaching and Learning class this semester. The log is too long to post (though if anyone wants a copy, I'm happy to email it to you – just leave a comment), but as I had the content semi-handy, I thought I'd pull a few of the more succinct of my ideas here. While my observations and phraseology are original, they were in response to my reading of two excellent books on education: God Our Teacher by Robert Pazmino and What the Best College Professors Do by Ken Bain.
Teachers and students are most human when we participate in the goal/process of being
conformed to Christ.
Biblically speaking (think Philippians 1:6), I
resonate very much with author's thoughts on the importance of embracing being
conformed to Christ as both human goal and process. As both a teacher and
student, I feel most alive as a human being when I feel I am teaching and
learning – not just knowledge which puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1), but how to
resist being conformed to this world so as to be transformed by renewing my
mind (Romans 12:2). This kind of heart education seems the source of all head
education, and both are needed.
Jesus is the best model we have in terms of motives, methods, and means of teaching and
The idea of and focus on disequilibration – and the case for Jesus’ mastery of it – is most helpful to me of all the ideas here. And yet, how Jesus cared for his audience while keeping them off-balance confronts me in my own heart as to my motives in asking questions or pressing points of my students. For whose benefit is such challenge? For Jesus, it was always the student he was trying to teach; for me, it is sometimes the student I’m trying to impress.
Grace (prevenient and ongoing) is requisite for true teaching and learning.
Again, theologically I get this (John 15:7), but I’m amazed at how quick I am to dismiss it in my preparation, instruction, and evaluation. I think part of my dismissal has much to do with the frequency with which I teach (five times a day, five times a week), and my dependence on God’s grace gets subtly replaced by my familiarity of the subject matter. But I’m to go beyond praying for my grasp of the topic at hand, and instead, by God’s grace, to be praying for the topic’s grasp on my students. This is where I fall so short on a weekly/daily basis.
Tradition consideration, reality discernment, and personal integrity were key to Jesus’
In considering the traditions and realities of my students, I feel fairly confident that I understand from where they’re coming; my temperament and curiosity are both strengths in picking up on these areas.
The more challenging thought here is the absolute consistency of Jesus’ life
with what he taught, and how completely aligned they were. Maybe it’s because I
teach biblical ethics and New Testament, but the worst feeling in the world is
having to teach something I myself am struggling with or (worse yet) have
recently failed miserably in.
Wisdom calls us to address real and relevant needs in others in real and relevant
I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum on this point, happily (finally) settling down in the center trying to hold the two extremes in tension. It’s easier to do either at the expense of the other – to only address truth as a teacher with little consideration of actual need, or to pursue all things germane to the student so as not to be viewed as out of touch – but God has called us to do both. Christ’s incarnation – God as one of us – is the best example.
Transformative learning has everything and nothing to do with teachers (and that’s what makes it hard).
I remember when I first started teaching in the classroom, my ideas about what I was doing had everything to do with how effective a teacher I was and, as a result, how transforming the effect of my teaching would be. Over the past 2 ½ years of formally teaching students, I recognize that, ultimately, any effectiveness or transformation that comes from my teaching has almost everything to do with my students and very little to do with me.
And yet, just as I want to wash my hands of responsibility to be prepared and
passionate about teaching, I say “almost.” I still can and must play a role in transformational learning through my preparation, implementation, and evaluation in the classroom. I am still called to design learning environments and dispense questions and content helpful to transformative learning. It is still required of me to take seriously my call and gifting to teach. But, inherent in all this
reaffirmation is the realization that I am still called to pray for my students for transformative change to happen in their hearts. This may be the greatest impact I as a transformative teacher have on my learners…and the hardest for me to do.
The degree to which learning expectations are realistic and communicated is the degree to which students learn.
My personal tendency as a teacher could easily be to have unrealistic expectations of my students of which only I am aware. Both would serve me well in assuring that I am the one in control, as a student would never reach my standards (and even if he did, I would never tell him). It sounds sick (and it is), but this is how recovering legalists think.
This is where the need for a reassessment of my experience and understanding of the role of a teacher is most pronounced: I am to be a designer – not a dictator – for my
students and what they will learn. What’s the difference? Designing demands
consideration of my students; dictating demands their conformity. Designing
requires an honest evaluation of my students; dictating requires their
unquestioning obedience to what I decide. Designing is a lot harder; dictating is a lot easier.
How a teacher talks to and treats his students has everything to do with how his students learn.
The only thing more disgusting than the presence of pride in a student is the presence of pride in a teacher. I don’t want to be that teacher so full of himself that the ooze comes between those I’m called to teach and myself. I’ve had teachers like that (though I’ve not known them, mostly because they didn’t seem to care to know me), and they are the antithesis of what I want to be as an educator. The Scriptures say pride comes before a fall; it also comes between a teacher and his students (and there’s enough challenge there already).