17 January 2009

Reflections on Teaching

It's hard to believe it, but I've been out of school and teaching for a year and a half now. Today I've been thinking a bit about the things I like about my job, the challenges teaching presents, and the various in ways I need to grow as an academician. I thought I'd share some thoughts here.

Here's one thing that I really love about my job, something that makes me smile to myself as I climb those grueling, building-code-defying stairs to my office: moments when I can tell that I'm getting through to my students. I've recently discovered anew the joy of trying to find relevant, creative ways to connect our class discussion with my students' realities, particularly their spiritual/religious experiences. I think it's the same thing that I enjoy about crafting sermons - finding and articulating a link between careful theological thinking and the nitty-gritty situations of life. Really, what good is one without the other? Striking an appropriate balance between the two is a major part for how I evaluate my teaching effectiveness these days.

That, of course, is part of the challenge of teaching - having the wisdom to know how best to connect these things. I feel a bit ashamed to own up to the other thing I find challenging: I'm really terrible at articulating student learning outcomes and clearly explaining assignments and expectations. I stare at the computer screen for lengthy periods trying to find the best way to express these things. All I can say is, I hope it gets easier with practice. Or will it always be this painstaking?

There are other growth areas too - certainly more than strengths! I'm very aware of my paucity of experience as an educator and a scholar. I have so much to learn about my subject matter; the more I teach, the more I realize I've got so much to learn. The list is daunting, and on my pessimistic days it feels virtually insurmountable. I've yet to figure out the best way to ask clear questions for class discussion... they're especially convoluted when I'm shooting from the hip.

So, I've got a long way to go. At the same time, this unexpected opportunity to teach has given me plenty of reason to believe that it's a journey well worth taking.


The Driskells said...

Teaching is a fabulous journey into learning! I'm glad you're enjoying it and growing too. I hope those two things never stop happening! Miss you!
: ) Kara

mad4books said...

Sure wish I'd had more teachers like you!

Justin said...

It's encouraging to hear that I'm not the only person who passionately wants to educate people, but has trouble figuring out how to evaluate "progress" in that field. If you come up with answers that are more objective than: "I'll know it when I see it" let me know--PLEASE!

kentbrantly said...

i liked your use of the word "paucity." it's not every day you can work that into a conversation. and if you did, i'm not sure your students would know what you meant. at least, as a college freshman i would not have known what you were talking about. :)
keep up the good work, prof. when are you coming to visit us?

Naomi said...

In the one class period not about the syllabus that I have had so far, I was completely unable to ask a question without listing a few potential answers and then realizing that I had answered the question for them/turned it into a yes or no question and saying "Well, nevermind, ignore that...what do you think?"