Last weekend I was in Chicago for a seminar hosted by the Association of Theological Schools. The purpose of the meeting was to help new seminary and divinity school faculty members explore their vocations as “theological educators” within the common vocation of a theological faculty. As the invitation stated, “most of us were not trained for the variety of duties that come with teaching in a theological school and there are a number of adjustments to be made in the early years of our careers.”
That’s a pretty huge understatement, actually, as the adjustment from full-time research to full-time teaching can be seriously jarring. That certainly was my experience. My Ph.D. was in biblical studies and while I had taught in ministry contexts, I simply had no idea how to navigate the administrative apparatus of an educational institution, much less plan semester courses, syllabuses, reading lists, assignments, rubrics, etc.
I learned quite a bit in my first ten years of full-time teaching, mostly through the wisdom of colleagues and some from my own trials and errors. But I was happy to be invited to share what I’ve learned thus far with new faculty members last weekend and also to hear about the experiences of others.
I thought I’d roll some of these out in this space and I’ll be happy if we can get some conversation started about them and if anyone in educational contexts finds them at all helpful.
Presenters were asked to shape their comments along the following lines:
The focus is on how you have negotiated your way through the varied demands of teaching in a theological school: developing new courses, coming to understand the unique culture of your institution, serving the church, moving toward promotion and tenure, keeping scholarship alive in the midst of many demands on your time, the formation of students for ministries, community service, and life outside the seminary.
I organized my remarks under teaching, scholarship, navigating your institution, formation of students, and service to the church. Because of time constraints (and my own verbosity), I only hit the first two points. I’ll reproduce the whole talk over a handful of posts.
I’ll post tomorrow my first set of comments on teaching. For today, I’ll conclude with my opening comment.
Last year when I came to this conference, several people presented dire statistics about the crisis in theological education and for graduate theological institutions. When we saw the numbers from the last five years, there were gasps that confirmed what we suspected from anecdotal evidence. We then turned to one another and expressed in whispers and with wide eyes how thankful we were to have jobs.
So I’d like to begin on this note of thanksgiving. We are blessed to get to do what we love, and we’re fortunate to have full-time jobs at the schools we represent. Let us always be thankful and never take for granted our place of privilege, even as we do whatever we can to help colleagues and grad school friends find work.