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Three Final Stories from the Front (of the Classroom)

For our final post, we each cover an overarching reflection or two from the 2014-15 academic year. Look for fresh content from the Wabash Center in the fall. In the meantime, feel free to visit our ongoing blog Race Matters in the Classroom or browse our Wabash Center YouTube channel.

Kate Blanchard

One thing I’ve learned from this year of reflections is how readily I dwell in the negative. My Blog 1generous co-authors have called my posts “raw” and “honest,” but I’m afraid what that really means is that I’ve been the George Costanza of this blog, always saying what is generally better left unsaid!

I realize that I did not invent professorial whining; it is a cultural habit that is highly contagious, and every time I join in I embed it further. My advice to those of you who also tend toward negativity is to attach yourselves to some really great colleagues who will help redeem it. In always asking what the take-away was, Roger and Eric encouraged me to move through the negative into something constructive that I could use.

Blog 2On the positive side, perhaps the most encouraging thing I learned this year is that I still like teaching. I like talking with students and thinking about how to foster their learning. They are people, after all, and people tend to be interesting if you’re paying attention. To be in a position to encourage them is an almost incomprehensible privilege that I don’t wish to squander. I’m grateful to Wabash for that reminder.

Eric D. Barreto

I always wondered how my professors could wax eloquent or at least talk for hours without much help. How could she answer our questions effortlessly? How could she lecture only with a handful of notes? 

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I have to admit that in my sixth year of full-time teaching, I don’t wonder this so much anymore. If anything, I’ve discovered a well of words that can bore any audience! I sometimes feel like Paul in Blog 5Acts 20:7-12. Unfortunately, that might make my students more like Eutychus than I care to admit.

But in that ability to speak about the things I care most about, I’ve discovered anew this year an important part of my vocation as teacher. My best teachers lived at a critical intersection of expertise and humility, deep knowledge and an insatiable appetite to learn, a drive to teach one’s students but also learn from them. Teaching requires dwelling in these tensions.

And perhaps the clearest but simultaneously most important tension in teaching is this: we are experts in our fields, but the same drive that sustained us through coursework, exams, a dissertation, hiring, tenure, promotion, and on and on also makes us wonder if we are adequate to the task. We are thoughtful people but that same thoughtfulness can be paralyzing.

In the end, I wonder if the most important lesson I take forward is that teaching is an act of courage but an act of courage precisely because we have to teach with humility, knowing full well that there is always much more to learn.

Roger S. Nam

In looking back at the 2014-15 academic year, I made ten overgeneralized observations about Korean graduate theology students: 

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1. Korean theology students rarely challenge professors in the classroom.

2. They would not dare address us by our first names or the even more informal, “Hey!”

3. Some (not all) have insanely diligent work ethics.

4. Rote memorization is easy for them.

5. Their English reading skills are much better than their English conversation skills.

6. They take notes so furiously that you’d think I was lecturing on the secret to cold fusion.

7. They like reading Western theologies and applying them to the Korean church with mixed results.

8. They are not comfortable with flipped learning as it diverts the locus of authority away from the professor (see 1).

9. They accept practices like attendance checks and pop quizzes.

10. During class, they may fall asleep or text incessantly. Sound familiar?

Blog 7The main takeaway? I am reminded of the importance of context in our classrooms. Korean students have vastly different skills, assumptions, values, obligations and learning goals, and I needed to adjust my pedagogical approaches accordingly. This is no easy job, even for me as an ethnic Korean!

With the changing demographics of religious and theological education, professors have a herculean task in creating an inclusive classroom environment. But I’m deeply encouraged by colleagues like Kate, Eric and others from Wabash Nation who continue to inspire me with their own stories from the front of the classroom.

Kate Blanchard

About Kate Blanchard

Kate Blanchard, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Alma College Kate is currently on sabbatical near Atlanta doing a collaborative project with Dr. Kevin O'Brien (a friend from her pre-tenure workshop) about Christian ethics and free market environmentalism. When not on sabbatical, she makes her home in Alma, Michigan, with her husband, Rev. Chris Moody, and their son, Gus, a dinosaur and train connoisseur. She has taught at Alma College since graduating from Duke in 2006. She is the author of The Protestant Ethic or the Spirit of Capitalism: Christians, Freedom, and Free Markets (Cascade, 2010) and co-editor of "Lady Parts: Biblical Women and 'The Vagina Monologues,'" which includes six pieces authored by her students. She mouths off now and then at the Huffington Post, and very occasionally tweets at @blanchard_kate.

Eric D. Barreto

About Eric D. Barreto

Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary. Eric lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife Holley and two beautiful children. He loves great food, the recent TV renaissance, travelling, and Minnesota's fabulous summers. He is the author of Ethnic Negotiations: The Function of Race and Ethnicity in Acts 16(Mohr Siebeck, 2010) and the co-author of New Proclamation Year C 2013: Easter through Christ the King(Augsburg Fortress, 2013). These days, he is working on a book on the theology of ethnicity of Acts and how it might shape biblical imagination around diversity in churches today. He is also a regular contributor at the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-eric-d-barreto/) and hosts a monthly podcast on EnterTheBible.org.  For more, go toericbarreto.com and follow him on Twitter(https://twitter.com/ericbarreto).

Roger S. Nam

About Roger S. Nam

Roger Nam, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, George Fox Seminary. A California native, Roger lives in Lake Oswego, Ore., with his with his wife, Samantha, and their two sons, Jared and Asher. As California transplants, they freely complain about the lack of sunshine, while secretly loving the cuisine, culture and the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Roger works primarily on understanding the nature of economy in the ancient Near East, particularly as reflected in biblical and extra-biblical texts. He works secondarily on Late Bronze Age civilizations, social scientific approaches to the Bible and inner-biblical exegesis. His doctoral work was at UCLA in Near Eastern Languages and Culture; he has authored Portrayals of Economic Exchange in the Book of Kings (Leiden: Brill, 2012) and is presently writing a book on the economies of Judah during the Persian period. Before entering the academic field of biblical studies, he was a pastor at Choong Hyun Presbyterian Church in Seoul, Korea (1994-1996), and a financial analyst at Maxim Integrated Products (1997-2000). Find him at http://www.georgefox.edu/seminary/faculty/bio/roger-nam.html

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