Tuesday, July 7, 2015

First Cup: If I taught….

As I walked this morning, a certain refrain kept occurring to me: “If I taught according to what I believe and what I teach….” A challenging refrain because I teach courses that are part of the Humanities Core of Warner Pacific College. These courses are, in and of themselves, challenging learning environments. They function like the backbone of the curriculum, a spine that extends from the freshman year through the senior. Depending on the entry point, all students are required to take these. I usually teach these classes in three out of four years: in the Freshman Year Learning Communities program; the two junior year courses—Spirituality, Character, and Service and Faith, Living, and Learning; and the senior capstone course, often referred to simply as Hum 410. Its title is Senior Humanities Seminar.

These courses provide a specifically mission driven set of lenses through which students engage the College’s mission—“Christ-centered, liberal arts, urban, diverse”—and convictions: “a worldview that is ethical, respectful, and promotes stewardship through acts of service; self-knowledge, integrity, and awareness of others through responsible decision making; and sensitivity to and valuing of diversity among and between persons.”

I often say to students, however, that the subject of these courses, regardless of the context and skills taught and utilized, is “you,” that is, the student him and herself. In these core courses, finally, nearly everything comes down to one question: “How, then, shall I/we live?” Whatever I believe and whatever is the content of my character, how I/we live with others in a rich and diverse world becomes the “end” of what I teach—if there can be an end in such courses. This would apply as well to me, the professor, instructor, teacher, guide, coach, mentor. Finally, what I believe and who I am must be play out in response to “How, then, shall I teach?”

This begs the question: If I taught in ways congruent with my beliefs and convictions and congruent with what I teach my students, how would I be present in those relationships both in and out of the classroom?

• I believe that God is fundamentally relational, created all persons as fundamentally relational beings, and seeks in ways too mysterious to say to be in loving relationship with all persons, yes, even the entire created order
• I believe and teach that all persons are loved by God without condition and have inherent value;
• I believe that God invites all persons to sit at God’s table without regard to status, privilege, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, talents, skills, intelligence
• I believe all persons embody a personal narrative that has meaning and value in and of itself—and are persons who want to be heard;
• I believe all persons are on journeys of great significance and meaning—journeys of mystery and wonder and purpose;
• I believe all persons are part of a community—Ubuntu—and are who they are because of who we are

Which means:

• That I teach as a vulnerable and transparent person, practicing hospitality that invites students to learn in and live out of vulnerability and transparency
• That I spread a classroom table that is wide and accessible and expandable
• That I strive in every way I know to create community in the classroom—community that is sacred space into which all persons are welcome to the extent they are able to enter
• That I treat learners as teachers and myself as learner
• That I see my student-learners and myself as pilgrims, individually and communally, on a journey of self-discovery, other-discover, and God-discovery—and that these journeys are one journey and interwoven and inseparable
• That I enter a mutually developed covenant with my students that is mutually binding
• That I treat each student with respect, generosity, and wonder, and invite each one to treat each other with respect, generosity, and wonder
• That I listen not only to what they say but also to what they do not say
• That I practice grace and hospitality
• That I never ask student-learners to go anywhere I will not go or will not go first
• That I never take advantage of the power I have to coerce, manipulate, or shame
• That I strive to express myself in loving, personal and formational ways that contribute to the student’s own growth as a loving, personal, and forming adult
• That I pray during the development of my syllabus, pray as I teach, and as I grade; I will pray for each of my student-learners

I’m sure there is more to be said, and I know I don’t have a corner on this matter. Therefore, I invite any reader out there to add to the list. This really matters, I think. I look forward to what you might have to say.

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