As I begin to prepare for my first semester as a full-time university faculty member, I reflect on the challenges and rewards of “classroom teaching” at the college level. Random thoughts…
1. I must not imagine that my students will learn everything there is to know about the course subjects in a single semester. Rather than teaching, the goal is really to inspire in them the desire to learn, and to keep on learning.
2. As much as I would love to teach students that only desire learning for learning’s sake all the time, this is not realistic. I was an undergraduate not too long ago, and I liked to learn–but I had other pressures and responsibilities. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. One of my responsibilities as “instructor,” then, is to set up requirements, rewards and consequences in such a way as to keep them accountable, while not squelching their desire to learn.
3. I am intrigued by the “inquiry method” of pedagogy advocated by Postman and Weingartner in Teaching As a Subversive Activity. In this method, the teacher provides few or no “answers,” but rather stimulates discussion through questions. I have several doubts about the use of this method in my context. First, I am a biblical educator in a Christian context. To a certain extent all education subverts presuppositions, but I also wish to confirm and strengthen my students’ faith in the Bible. Questions and answers can result in stronger faith. Second, many of my students will have English as their second language and may not feel as comfortable in classroom discussion. Third, if the students are not accustomed to an inquiry method, they may be like the fourth son in the Passover Seder, the “son who does not even know how to ask a question.” I will need to work on modeling this for them, and not just giving them answers. Fourth, I am interested to see what discussion looks like in a classroom with students of different confessional/theological backgrounds, and different levels of training/understanding in the material.
4. I believe that feedback is the key service I provide as the professor that cannot be provided by other sorts of “content delivery” (videos, readings, lectures). My responses to their questions and comments, and especially to their written assignments, will shape their further inquiries beyond class. Frankly, I’m tempted to not assign tons of writing, because I’m a young professor with a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, living abroad for the first time, with my own research and class prep to do. But if my responsibility is to the students, I will need to focus on providing meaningful feedback–that’s probably more important than anything I “preach” at them in class.
5. Teaching literature is fundamentally different from teaching language. Language is a skill to be mastered; literature is a realm to be explored.