Monthly Archives: November 2013

St. Andrews Day

Today is the Feast of St. Andrews, the day when Scots celebrate the apostle, their national patron saint.

Scottish-flag-–-the-Saltire-or-St-Andrew’s-Cross

Here is the collect from the Revised Common Lectionary:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your Holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And here’s a bit about St. Andrew from the University of St. Andrews.

Our thoughts today are especially with those in Glasgow, after last night’s helicopter crash.

 


On Using & Misusing Scripture

I’m enjoying John Coffey’s new book, Exodus and Liberation: Deliverance Politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a study of the use of biblical language and imagery in political movements of revolution and liberation.

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The use and misuse of biblical language fascinates me because interpreting life Scripturally is at once absolutely necessary for faithful Christian discipleship and extremely precarious, always running the risk of idolatry. Christian leaders must orient and constantly reshape their communities’ imaginations so that they see the world through biblical eyes.

The trouble, however, is that agendas, motivations, and ideologies from elsewhere creep in so subtly that we sometimes find ourselves co-opting biblical language to advance personal, tribal, or nationalistic causes.

As just one example, Coffey cites Eusebius’ use of exodus imagery, moving beyond inner-biblical typology to biblical-political typology:

Eusebius was aware that Hellenistic Jewish writers had long presented Moses as a great legislator, and it was to Moses that he turned to legitimize the Constantinian revolution. The exodus demonstrated that God intervened in political history to liberate his oppressed people from bondage, and the deliverance of the Christians in the fourth century was a stunning confirmation of this. In chapter 9 of the Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius compared the pivotal battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 to the exodus of the children of Israel. The parallel was too clear to miss: the pagan Emperor Maxentius and his shield-bearers had drowned in the Tiber just as Pharaoh and his chariots had sunk in the Red Sea. In his Life of Constantine, Eusebius drew numerous parallels between the careers of the Emperor and Moses, just as traditional Christian biblical exegesis had traced a parallelism between the type (Moses) and the anti-type (Christ) (p. 5).

In The City of God, Augustine would caution against reading the will of God in secular history. But down the centuries Christians have found the Eusebian temptation quite irresistible. Political typology had undeniable power. It did more than provide religious legitimation; it reframed political history, placing it in biblical time. By scripturalizing events, Eusebius had made contemporaries see them through different eyes and invested them with providential meaning. Fourth-century Christians were not simply living through another imperial power struggle; they were reenacting Israel’s exodus. God had come down to deliver them, and Constantine was their new Moses (p. 6).

Discerning legitimate and illegitimate uses of Scripture to interpret personal, corporate, and political narratives requires constant vigilance on the part of the people of God, and works like Coffey’s can be a great help in this task.


Dictionary of Jesus & the Gospels, Pt. 2

I’ve been dipping into the second edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels and am thoroughly enjoying it. It’s difficult to know just how to capture it in one big review, so I’ll probably relate some impressions of it over several posts.

A handful of reference works stand out as truly exceptional. The IVP line of dictionaries on the Old and New Testaments is one of these.

DJG2

For this revised edition, around ninety percent of the material is new, with a number of new entries and some entries completely revised by new authors.

Over the last two decades, the growing importance of narrative criticism is one significant development in Gospels studies. The first edition of DJG (1992) had an entry for “Narrative Criticism,” which simply said, “See Literary Criticism; Narrative Exegesis.” The entry on “Narrative Exegesis” was just under two pages long and that on “Literary Criticism” covered a range of matters in addition to narrative criticism.

The revised edition has only an article on “Narrative Criticism” updating the development of the method over the intervening period. Its author, Jeannine Brown, situates the current scene within the history of the method’s development, notes some longstanding critiques, and discusses adjustments made by narrative critics in response. Like other articles, Brown’s closes with an extensive bibliography.

I also noticed the replacement of Doug Moo’s article on “Law” by Jimmy Dunn’s contribution on the same topic. This is quite interesting, and you may think somewhat cheeky by the editors, but the presence of both articles functions as a sort of counterpoint or conversation between the two. Those who have both editions now have a treatment of the topic from alternative (and not always contradictory) perspectives.

And this has precedent in the dictionaries. One notable example is the article on “Pseudepigraphy” by Dunn in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments set in contraposition to Don Carson’s article on “Pseudonymity” in the Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds. Having both sides of certain issues represented in the dictionaries makes the series far more than a reference tool. They function as sort of an ongoing scholarly conversation.

I’ll have much more to say about the dictionary, especially as I’m enjoying it immensely.


What I’ve Learned about Family

I’ve reflected recently on discussions from the ATS seminar in Chicago for new faculty, blogging on various challenges new professors face and for which they’re largely ill-prepared.

One thing I haven’t mentioned, but one that I’ve given more thought to than any other is the relation of my career to my family.

I’ve thought about this dynamic constantly over the last year or so, mainly because things have changed with our kids getting older and now heading off to college. And a great conversation last weekend with two good friends indicated to me that this issue’s signal importance is completely out of proportion to the attention given to it.

People in every career need to face this and likely encounter different pressures. But here are just a few thoughts from my situation and I’d love to hear from others, too:

  • I need to keep in mind that what I do (biblical studies) is the discovery, analysis, and embodiment of the dynamics of the Kingdom of God revealed in Scripture. I reflect on how individuals and communities can flourish under the reign of the Lord Jesus and develop strategies for drawing upon God’s own life by the Spirit. I can never, then, imagine that my responsibilities to my family are in competition with my career goals. Rather, I must be enacting these dynamics in my own life and participating in them along with my family, seeking our common flourishing.
  • I need to be vigilant about my desires, knowing that my heart (like everyone else’s) is an idol factory. The particulars of my career (improving my teaching, furthering my publication goals, giving papers at conferences, achieving tenure and promotion, etc.) are goods in themselves. I need to be watchful, however, about my tendency to establish my identity or personal value based on these things. If these are no longer vocational activities that I enjoy but must do in order to feel significant, then they become idolscruel taskmasters that prevent my flourishing and my being a life-giving agent to those nearest to me.
  • I said previously that I’m the only person who will guard my research and writing time. There are many and varied pressures trying to take up my time and no one else will protect it but me. In the same way, it’s my responsibility to give myself fully to my family and to protect the time devoted to them. In fact, it may be that the biggest pressure I need to resist is my own tendency to be distracted and my temptation to seek significance in other activities and other spheres. The commendation for a publication or a class or some other public service must be regarded as infinitely insignificant when it comes to my personal value. What is of incalculable significance, however, are the efforts taken to enjoy conversation with my wife, to give sustained attention to my kids, and to otherwise creatively develop relational postures and family patterns that generate life-giving dynamics because of the sustaining power and presence of God in Christ by the Spirit.
  • I’ve spoken to my father and my father-in-law about these things and they’ve both said that no one ever says on their death-bed, “I wish I would’ve worked more.” In the same way, I’m confident that I won’t say, “I wish I would’ve published one more journal article.” We know in theory that our careers pale in significance to our families. It’s up to us, however, to embody that conviction with intentional practices and purposeful patterns of family life.

There are many anecdotes and stories behind what I’ve learned over the last few years, but I’ll keep those to myself. We’re enjoying a wonderful season of flourishing these days and that’s mostly due to the grace of God and the sustained attention we’ve given to the things that matter most.

 


The Faith of a Community

I’ve been meditating on Mark 2:1-12 for the last few weeks. It’s a fascinating episode for many reasons, and among them is the role of the paralytic’s friends in vv. 1-5. Here’s the text:

When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark focuses on the man’s friends rather than on anything the man says, does, or intends. This is different from the way I’ve always thought of this episode.

In my imagination, the paralytic hears that Jesus is near, so he orders his caretakers to take him to see the Great Physician. As they carry him through the city streets, he is contended and serene, cultivating his strong inner faith, confident that Jesus can indeed heal him.

They arrive to find the house crowded. No problem. At the man’s command, his friends shuttle him up to the roof on a stretcher, remove a skylight, install a system of pulleys connected to the roof and smoothly lower him down as he and Jesus lock eyes. The man is still reclining comfortably, of course, and they set him nicely down in front of Jesus who then conducts this interchange with him and the scribes to the quiet approval of all those watching.

The scene closes to the pleasant sound of golf applause coming from all those gathered ‘round.

That’s not how it goes at all, of course. This is Mark relating this episode, a gritty narrator with an unusual agenda.

Unnamed men hear that Jesus is at home, so they grab their friend who, for all we know, may be half-conscious or even asleep, and carry him down narrow streets, bumping his head on stone walls as they twist and turn down the alleyways, finally arriving at the house.

They’re probably all disheveled, sweaty, panting, and their lame friend is very uncomfortable and very likely in great pain at this point.

“Oh no! The house is crowded and there are people spilling out onto the street! What’re we going to do!?”

“Let’s go through the roof!”

“What!?  Are you crazy!?”

But they do it.

They drag him up to the roof, tear it apart, dust and bits of mud and chunks of stuff falling down all over the people inside who are probably not at all happy that these strangers are doing a demo-job on what is probably Peter’s house. Some are even shouting, “what are you doing!? Not only are you interrupting Jesus’ teaching, but you’re destroying my roof!” The nerve!

They are undeterred—they must get their friend to Jesus! So they lower him down—how? With what? We don’t know—rope? His clothes? Again, this guy can’t be all that comfortable at this point.

But, as it happens, there he is, lying on the floor, on his mat.

Among the many striking things about this episode, I’m most struck by what strikes Jesus. We do not read, “Jesus, seeing his faith . . .”

Rather, Mark reports that Jesus noted “their faith,” and thus says to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Interestingly, we’re not even told that this was the man’s concern.  In fact, we’re told almost nothing about the paralytic. He’s a bit player in his own Gospel episode! How unfair! We do see, however, that these men acted on behalf of their friend.

They had faith and he had his sins forgiven.

Reflecting again on this episode, I’ve been reminded of the times I have been literally carried by the faith of my friends. Many of us can identify those times of painful tragedy, unspeakable grief, crushing loss–seasons when we find ourselves losing heart and losing hope. I’m grateful for dear friends among whom I’ve experienced what it means to be carried by the faith and hope of others.


On Requiring Hebrew & Greek

I’m putting together a statement for our catalog explaining GRTS’s commitment to training in Hebrew and Greek exegesis. This isn’t a final draft, but I’m posting it in its current form in order to solicit thoughts and impressions. Am I missing anything? Are there considerations that need to be expanded, removed, added? What do you think?

The Master of Divinity degree is the historical standard in academic preparation for both vocational ministry and advanced theological study. The program develops essential biblical competencies in leaders who must be skilled in interpreting Scripture. Because of this, GRTS requires three semesters of exegesis in both Hebrew and Greek, in addition to two semesters of basic instruction in each language. There are several reasons for this.

First, detailed and close scrutiny of the biblical text in the original languages offers the opportunity for greater interpretive accuracy. The flourishing of God’s people depends on them faithfully attending to what God has said. Ministers, therefore, must be skilled and accurate interpreters who can communicate God’s word to God’s people.

Second, the logic of God’s work in the world and the precise and varied contours of the gospel are communicated by the linguistic thought-forms and verbal expressions of biblical Hebrew and Greek. Skilled interpreters will pick up nuances of meaning and shades of expression that translations cannot capture. Because of this, skilled interpreters who know the languages can penetrate into the truth more effectively and communicate with greater freshness the hope held out in Scripture.

Third, translations into any language inevitably shape the biblical text to some extent according to the values, thought-forms, and worldviews of the receptor language. Skilled interpreters who know the languages have the opportunity to allow Scripture to critique contemporary cultural values and corrupted mindsets.

Fourth, God calls his people to live by faith in him and to enjoy his blessing by walking in his often counter-cultural ways. In order for ministers to faithfully lead God’s people in the life of faith, they must have confidence that they have rightly understood what God has said and the promise to which he calls his people. Interpreting the biblical text by skillfully working in Hebrew and Greek offers the opportunity for ministers to faithfully lead God’s people.

We affirm the excellent and essential work of translators and publishers of translations so that the Word of God is in the hands of as many people as possible. And we affirm the fruitful and God-blessed ministries of many diligent and God-honoring people who have not learned Hebrew and Greek. We remain strongly committed, however, to training ministry practitioners who excel in interpretation and proclamation of the Bible in the original languages.

I’ve poked around at a few other statements and found some good food for thought here, here, and here.


What I’ve Learned about Student Formation & Service to the Church

Expectations differ from institution to institution about the involvement of faculty in the formation of students and in service to the church and community. This was a significant aspect of our discussion at the seminar because some participants were on faculty at denominational schools that expect them to serve area churches in various ways.

Since I don’t necessarily face the same expectations of others in denominational schools, I can only speak from my own experience.

  • Regarding student formation, I have found that the most enjoyable and fruitful “mentoring” relationships are those based on mutuality. This may be because of my age, but I don’t know that I have loads of wisdom to pass on to others. Rather, I’ve developed mutually-beneficial friendships with students. To my mind, we’re siblings in the family of Jesus and even though we may be professor-student, I’m more comfortable developing relationships of in which the learning, encouraging, and blessing go in both directions. What I found interesting, however, is that such a posture may not be advisable for everyone in every institution. I spoke with several women, two of whom were African-American, who noted that cultural dynamics in their traditions made it necessary to use their titles (“Doctor” or “Professor”) in relating to students in order to avoid begin treated with disrespect. I didn’t anticipate this, but it made perfect sense.
  • Set limits to mentoring and involvement in student formation outside of class. When I taught undergrads, my wife and I had no shortage of opportunities to be involved with students, and we enjoyed every minute of it. As our children grew, however, and as our involvement in our local church increased, we needed to set limits on mentoring opportunities. When I began teaching at the seminary level, I kept in mind the need to make progress on my research and to make sure I was attending to our family life faithfully. I’ve set aside certain times of my week when I’m available for coffee or lunch with students and when those fill up, I’m careful not to take away time I’ve devoted to other things.
  • Regarding service to the church, I don’t assume that my vocation as a teacher is the main manner in which I serve the church. I commend to you the notion that we should let the church be the church—that is, God’s gift to us. I know, of course, that teachers are God’s gift to the church, but I’m not sure that this is the healthiest perspective from which to view ourselves. In order to free ourselves from feeling obligated, it’s helpful to see the church as God’s gift to us and let it be the means whereby God sustains us and nourishes us with his life-giving presence. Serve the church in ways that make you joyful and that make you flourish. I think that this may be a perspective that keeps you from getting burned out in ministry. This may mean that you do some teaching, but it may mean that you do other things, too. My family and I are involved in a ministry that serves homeless families as they get on their feet and find housing. I do some teaching, here and there, too, but I find that after teaching all week, it’s the last thing I want to do on a Sunday. Since it’s brought blessing to the church, I’m happy to do it once in a while, but I’d rather serve in hands-on and practical ways. That’s just me, and that’s my two cents, so take it for what it’s worth. One benefit of serving in that way, however, is that I’m enabled to teach my students headed into leadership ministries from a perspective of someone who serves practically in a church.
  • Finally, to serve the church and extend your effectiveness in student formation, start a blog! Nearly all of my blog posts had their genesis in class discussions. I love it when students ask questions that knock me back on my heels and make me think. I’ll typically drive home that evening with the radio off thinking through what they’ve asked and begin to formulate some thoughts in response to it. Many of us are doing what we’re doing because we love biblical and theological study and reflection, and blogging is a great way to roll out thoughts, to hear from others, and to extend the conversation.

As with previous posts, I’m happy to hear from others about what they’ve learned!


What I’ve Learned about Navigating an Institution

For new faculty members who are fresh out of Ph.D. programs, navigating an entirely new institutional culture can be mystifying and frustrating. The tenure pathway may not be clearly laid out and the “word on the street” about how to achieve tenure differs from colleague to colleague.

New faculty may have had lots of contact with a chairperson or dean during the hiring process. Upon arriving on campus, however, they find themselves left alone, encountering an unspoken but well-established social structure with unwritten rules and very little clarity. The need to navigate this new environment while pursuing the not-too-well-defined requirements for tenure and keeping up with a busy teaching schedule is terribly anxiety-inducing.

Welcome to your career!

Here’s what I’ve learned about navigating an institution:

  • Get to know your dean as a person. Very often deans in seminaries and divinity schools are in that spot because they showed some administrative skill in one way or another and they’ve been drafted into that role but would much rather be teaching and doing research. In short, your dean may be a frustrated academic. Or, your dean may be an excellent administrator but there are aspects of the job that they don’t like. Get to know your dean and find out how they see things institutionally and gain an appreciation for the pressures they deal with. This will help you understand how you can “manage” your dean. Now, I realize that sounds terrible, but when I was doing my Ph.D., I read the book How to Get a Ph.D. and it had a chapter on how to manage your supervisor. It contained very practical counsel on taking responsibility for your program and understanding how one’s supervisor worked best in order to make the relationship most fruitful. In the same way, take responsibility for your career and assume that your dean wants the relationship to go well and the institution to thrive. Try to understand how they work best, in what ways you can help them out, and how you can arrange that relationship so that they can help you further your career.
  • The single most helpful piece of advice I heard at last year’s meeting was to sit down with your dean (or chairperson) and get all your career advancement information down in writing. I did this as soon as I returned from the meeting, nailing down the specific steps and dates of the tenure process, the criteria on which I’d be evaluated, when I would be eligible for promotion, and when I could apply for sabbatical. We’re supremely blessed at GRTS with an excellent dean, so after we talked it all through, he wrote it up in an email to me so that I’d have it in writing. I’ve talked with several colleagues at other institutions where the requirements are unclear or simply unknown. Your career is at stake, so don’t wait until you’re a few years in to begin thinking about what you should be doing to put together a portfolio for tenure.
  • Along this line, update your curriculum vitae regularly. Your CV should be a document that is on your desktop or somewhere accessible so that you can easily add a publication, speaking engagement, book review, or steps you’re taking to grow professionally. This is typically part of your regular review process. If you don’t update it regularly, you’ll forget about all that you’re doing and the record of your regular progress as a faculty member will be incomplete.
  • Let your dean know what you’re doing, what you’re publishing, where you’re speaking, and what conferences you’re attending. This may feel like self-promotion and you may be hesitant to do this, but it’s important to let your dean know what you’re doing to add value to the institution. Not only that, but you’re providing some good fodder for when your dean reports to the institution’s administration about the many good things the seminary faculty is doing these days to bless the church and the wider community. You’re an asset for the institution and you need to let your dean know that you’re a valuable one.
  • This is my rule regarding committee work and participation in administrative tasks: say “yes” when you can so that you can say “no” when you can’t. Because of the crisis facing higher education in general and theological institutions in particular, we don’t have the luxury of insisting on being unencumbered by administrative duties. Volunteer for tasks that need to be done when you can and you’ll make an administrator’s day! Be a team player and carry your load so that when you absolutely can’t do it, you can say “no.”
  • Sit down with older faculty and learn about the institution’s history. Who are the legendary professors who left a major mark? What are the critical conflicts that still simmer under the surface? Why does the room grow quiet when the dean mentions this or that issue in a faculty meeting? Your institution is the current product of a potentially long and complicated history. Learn it so that you can avoid stepping on landmines and doing serious damage to your career.
  • Get to know your colleagues. Some of our institutions have an intentionally communal dynamic, but many of us teach at schools where we seldom see our colleagues. For introverts like me, this is wonderful—I can be left alone! But I have some new colleagues and they’re wonderful people, so I’ve scheduled some regular lunches for casual conversation. Some practical advice: One aspect of tenure is collegiality. In the past month I’ve heard of two situations in which a person met the formal requirements but was denied tenure because of being a difficult person and a poor colleague. Taking simple and basic steps to cultivate relationships among your colleagues goes a long way toward building good will and furthering your career.

There’s obviously so much more to be said on this. I’d love to hear from others about what they’ve learned.


What I’ve Learned about Scholarship

Participants in the seminar held last weekend were asked to address how new faculty members can continue to participate in scholarship in the midst of so many demands on their time.

The transition from graduate school researcher to full-time professor is not an easy one. In grad school, colleagues share their cutting edge research and devour and discuss the latest works in various sub-specialties.

When we begin teaching, few people care about our research, our new colleagues are consumed with their own busy schedules, and the demands on our time from a full load of new courses, student advising, and committee responsibilities drain our hope of having anything like a balance between research and teaching.

Here’s what I’ve learned about participating in scholarship in the midst of a busy teaching schedule:

  • Write regularly. Set aside a specific time and stick to it. Don’t depend on an upcoming break to get a project started. If you’re not writing regularly, you won’t write when you get a large chunk of time.  Use breaks to keep writing, don’t depend on them to start writing. I’m in the midst of a busy semester, but I write from 5:00-6:15 each morning. I’m a morning person and that’s the time my brain is freshest. Over the last two months I’ve gotten loads done. Some mornings I write 500-900 words. Other mornings, I touch up a few paragraphs and do some reading toward what I’m writing. In the Spring my schedule will open up dramatically and I’ll have more time. But if I stick to this schedule, I’ve found that I can make quite a bit of progress.
  • You need to protect your writing time because no one else will. Block it out in your schedule and regard it as time that is dedicated and that cannot be taken for student advising or anything else. And if you think you’re being selfish, just imagine that the satisfaction it gives you allows you to give to others your best self.
  • Publish your work from your dissertation as soon as you can. You have lots of options, but get to it as soon as you can. If you wait around on it, you won’t get to it. You can publish it as a monograph, or break it up into articles and re-write the entire argument in a more popular format. But my advice is to publish it in the first year or two of teaching and then move on to a new (even if related) area of research.
  • Keep up with your field by doing book reviews. Aim for about four or five per year. Some journals want short reviews (400-500 words), which allows you to provide a brief overview of the work and perhaps place it in the field within which it’s written. You can easily do several of these throughout the year. Others look for extensive reviews with intense engagement, and you can aim for perhaps one or two a year of those per year. Write to book review editors of academic journals and let them know your interests. Or, if you want to engage a new release, write to a review editor or two and ask if you can review it for them. Book review editors are sometimes desperate for reviewers, so put yourself on their radars and give yourself this great opportunity to keep up with the latest in scholarship.

Any other wisdom out there for keeping up with scholarship while maintaining a busy teaching schedule?

 


What I’ve Learned about Teaching

Many of us in higher education had no training in pedagogy. We did our research in our area of specialization and wrote seminar and conference papers, journal articles, and our dissertations. If we had opportunities to teach, we may have picked up some hints and tips about organizing material for a classroom presentation or to lead a discussion.

When we begin our teaching careers, however, we may be overwhelmed at the prospect of building syllabuses for three, four, or five courses, organizing the course content, and imagining creative and effective assignments.

I learned most of what I know about teaching from colleagues who shared their experiences and were willing to help me. I recalled some of these last weekend, and I’d love to hear from others about their experiences and what they’ve learned about teaching.

  • When you’re teaching a course for the first time, don’t be afraid to ask a colleague who has taught it before for his or her syllabus. You can also find courses syllabuses on the SBL website. It’s far easier to work from something and make it your own than to develop a new course from nothing.  Most colleagues understand the pressures involved in beginning a career and are happy to help, so just ask.
  • Someone mentioned this last year at the ATS gathering and I’ve kept it in mind. Your students aren’t you. We’re in the guild because we’re Bible and theology nerds who love this environment. We may have had the luxury of studying full-time while in seminary. Our students, however, have jam-packed lives, often work full-time, or are consumed by stressful ministries. When I first began teaching at the seminary, I built my NT Exegesis syllabus as the ideal course I wish I had taken when I was in seminary. It was way too much and I needed to make modifications as the semester progressed.
  • Journal after class. I spend five minutes after class writing down some thoughts. I note what worked and what didn’t. I reflect on what students found helpful and what needed further clarification. I may comment that a certain textbook is very helpful or that I won’t use this or that article the next time I teach the course. But I collect my thoughts in one document for each course that I open when I need to prepare for the following semester and make some adjustments.
  • Seek to improve a course by 10% each semester. A colleague told me this once and it gave me permission to not feel I had to overhaul each class every semester. Make minor tweaks here and there to gradually improve a course so that it becomes excellent over time.
  • Consider posturing yourself as the lead learner rather than the authoritative voice from on high. That generates enthusiasm for the process of discovery and invigorates students about exploring the course content along with you.
  • Consider doing your own mid-semester or post-semester evaluations. You can ask basic questions about aspects of the course to identify areas in need of improvement. I’ve used a very simple form in the past given to me by a colleague (find it here).
  • Be creative with assignments. Many of us expected (and loved!) research papers. We wanted nothing other than to spend long hours in libraries chasing down sources, building bibliographies, and working through issues on our own. Increasingly, however, students don’t have access to libraries, have full-time jobs, commute from long distances, and can’t do the sort of research that was “normal” in former days. There’s much to be said about all of this, of course, but my point here is that you ought to consider perhaps a series of smaller and more strategic assignments throughout a semester whereby students engage the material rather than research papers.

Educators, students, and others, I’d love to hear your thoughts!