We’re about to begin a new academic semester (if this “polar vortex” ever allows us to open the campus!).
At the end of the fall semester, as I was buried under piles of papers, exams, and excuses for late work – and trying literally to dig out from under blizzard after glorious blizzard – I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction. Though busy, it had been a very good semester and I have very much enjoyed teaching at GRTS over the past few years.
Now, I am certainly aware of my shortcomings as a teacher and have reflected on some necessary improvements in each of my courses. I don’t think I feel satisfied because of a skill level I’ve achieved.
I’m in my tenth year of full-time teaching and for the first seven or eight years, I felt overwhelmed by the task. I was certain I was failing. For the last few years, however, I have enjoyed teaching and as I evaluated the past semester over the last few weeks, I have actually felt satisfied.
During the winter break I had some time to probe this surprisingly new sense to determine what accounted for it.
I’m sure that other teachers would answer this question differently. But what is it that satisfies me as a teacher?
I am satisfied when students respond eagerly to the challenge to engage with the material in fresh ways.
I teach biblical studies because I love the topic. I am thrilled by discoveries in the text, breakthroughs into new ways of seeing what had seemed so familiar, the manner in which Scripture opens up life, interpreting it, rendering it anew in hopeful, life-giving ways.
I enjoy all of that in my own study and I’m very happy to teach both the content of it and the methods for getting at it.
What satisfies me deeply is when students take up the challenge and get excited about that for themselves — when they challenge me, ask penetrating questions, and throw themselves fully into the process of wrestling with the text.
I don’t need students to agree with me, and I’m not necessarily satisfied when they make a high grade (though I enjoy seeing excellent work).
I love it when I find a partner in the task, a friend who’s also on the journey of discovery, someone who appreciates the complexity of the topic, who grapples with its difficulties and see its various facets.
This process, it seems to me, generates joy and produces humility. The task is character-forming in a life-giving way, for even as it is the discovery and mastery of material, it is the exploration of how these thoughts, notions, and concepts open up redemptive pathways and generate dynamics of renewal within us and in our relationships.
I am confident that the academic study of Scripture does this in the lives of diligent students. This dynamic energizes me in my own study and I am deeply satisfied when others join this endeavor alongside me.
The next few months should be fun.