I finished my last seminary class on Monday with my Educational Capstone portfolio and presentation. Unless I hear differently between now and then, I'm set to graduate from Covenant with my Masters in Educational Ministries (for those keeping score, I graduated last year with a Masters in Theological Studies).
Five years – that's how long all this has taken. When people ask if I'm planning on going for a Ph.D., my answer is standard: "I'd love to (and I really would), but only if someone else is paying for it." (Feel free to submit all benefactor/patron/Sugar Daddy offers in the comments below.)
As a way of bringing some initial closure to my seminary days (and as some pre-celebration before graduation on Friday), here's my final reflection paper from my Capstone project. For what it's worth…
In considering my Educational Capstone experience, my feelings are mixed, though not in an altogether negative way. As was intended, I can vouch for having a sense of accomplishment from looking back over coursework from my education career at Covenant. I can also give testimony that the portfolio concept of review intended to capture and showcase such accomplishment is good and one I enjoyed very much. That said, my mixed feelings regarding the Capstone stem from my own imagination of how much more this final seminary class could have been had I not been so involved in, well, my education career.
Reading through my portfolio, one thing I consider a huge strength of my Educational Capstone experience has been my opportunity to be an education student while working as a full-time teacher. The benefits of having a hands-on, ready-made laboratory of learning are innumerable and really comprise the theme of my enclosed book, Learning Education: Essays and Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching. It’s been a great opportunity and a real advantage for a multitude of reasons in my time finishing my education degree.
However, I can’t help but wonder how my experience might have been different without being a teacher while taking the course. Had I been a full-time student (rather than a part-timer perpetually scrambling to make time to attend class meetings and complete various stages of work on assignments and projects), I wonder what different themes might have been more dominant in my encounter otherwise. It’s not that I regret the challenges of the past three years, but I do wonder if/how I would have learned and applied the theories, concepts, and applications of Christian education differently if I weren’t so desperate to use them immediately on a weekly/daily basis.
In looking back through assignments, reflections, concept maps, outlines, and notes for my project, the general sense I had was that, because of my life situation (full-time teacher, part-time student), I probably rushed through absorbing many of the conceptual and technical theories in order to get to the application of them as quickly as possible. In other words, it’s not that I don’t understand many of the presumptions behind Christian education, but I don’t feel they are as much in the forefront of my mind as I would like since I’ve had to focus so much on doing the actual work of educating throughout my time.
Thankfully, I realize that none of this is without potential amendment, and I am certainly willing and able to design a summer course of my own to review what I may have been forced to hastily read and try to understand (and I did read, by the way, every assignment with highlighter in hand). The question, of course, is will I this summer? And if not this summer, this year? And if not this year, then when?
But here is where the two main points of what I’ve learned in my course of study – God as Master Teacher and Teacher as Learner – bring comfort and hope. While my formal degree program of study may be coming to a close, God’s program of study continues, and if I am at all “smokin’ what I’m sellin’” when it comes to teaching and my passion for it, I do not doubt that my study of all things education is still really just beginning.
As I know to be true (academically as well as experientially), we tend to learn when we’re curious, and even writing about my curiosity of what I may have not fully grasped makes me want to start all over again in two weeks with Michael Anthony’s Introducing Christian Education to figure out the questions to the answers for which I’m looking. This, I suppose, is the fun part about the field of education – the accepted default is not that one has learned all one needs to, but that one has learned much about all there still is to learn – and this is the sense I have finishing my degree, which seems good to me.
My other thought with regard to my Educational Capstone is how so much of my life has seemed designed to support what I’m doing now. This should not surprise me, as I believe in a sovereign and involved God who often blesses His people by surprising them with His creativity, but there were several tangible times across the semester when I vividly recall sitting back, shaking my head, and marveling at just how something I’d already learned and experienced was of benefit to me in the here and now.
Truly, God does not waste life. The examples are myriad: growing up on a farm and learning the value of hard work; being a student who always seemed to love school; playing sports and always wanting to coach; participating in extra-curriculars of music and speech and being able to speak with a measure of understanding in both; approaching college for both the personal development as well as the academic degree; investing ten years in youth ministry with The Navigators and learning so much about kids, leadership, and the practical realities of ministry in the process, all while working in areas of graphic design, public relations, program planning, counseling, and administration; receiving training in Reformed theology in seminary and (finally) being able to name the doctrine of common grace as so much of the explanation for my perspective on culture and people – by God’s grace, everything seems more intentional than accidental.
My Educational Capstone experience has helped me recognize all this in both tangible and ethereal ways, and I’m grateful that I can not only say it is so having learned as a student from God the Master Teacher, but that I also know it is so, as the desire to teach and to learn in service of Christian education continues to burn within me. It is one thing I do not doubt, but instead resonate with the psalmist when he writes:
“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18)
And for that – all of that – I am most grateful. Thanks for a great education experience.