Thursday, August 19, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 7

Today I will transition from my public eduction into my well-paid for education. At Northwest University, and no I won't correct you if you mishear me say Northwestern University, I was blessed with some of the best instructors as well as some of the greatest human beings. But I will focus on the great instructors and mention just one great human being, the late Dr. Dan Pecota. He was a man of great purity of mind and soul. An academic who worshipped his God in body, mind, and soul. I shall never forget his great influence on our campus, especially each time I hear the great hymn "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Thank you Dr. Pecota for your great example.

Professor Elms (Sociology/Doctrine)

There are two moments in specific that have stayed with me for nearly 15 years. The first happened in our Sociology course. Professor Elms, as did many at that Christian liberal arts school, began class with a prayer. He began "Let us pray." Then he didn't seem to pray. He remained quiet. As the early seconds passed, suspect glances came over many of our faces. But as the silence continued, many began to realize the sanctity of that moment. In our collective silence we were connected.
What does a moment of prayer have to do with teaching? In that simple event Professor Elms demonstrated how teaching is an art and that sometimes art is spontaneous. We come to our lessons with scripts or outlines, but we must be willing to allow for those moments of spontaneity. Perhaps it doesn't have to be standing on desks to inspire or standing on our heads. Perhaps it must simply be a collective deep breath, a recognizition that our students are stressed, hurting, or simply tired.
The second experience with Professor Elms came in a doctrine class. He taught us the doctrine that the school's particular denomination held. He presented what other doctrines subscribe to. And because we respected him, we asked what he believed. He never told us. We would try to trap him, trick him; but he never gave it up.
Professor Elms taught me to guard my opinions and ask questions instead. In teaching literature, it is sometimes easy to forget to ask questions when a student ask "What does this quote mean?" The easy route is to tell, and I have often given in to their traps and tricks. But when I am at my best, I remember to turn their questions back to them. I remember to probe and explore their thinking. Dr. Elms started that process in me before I had even considered becoming a teacher.


At 1:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two points, a good teacher always knows the "temperature" of a class and adjusts accordingly. Knowing when to push or pullback often distinguishes a good from a great teacher.
Also, more teachers need to incorporate the "team" concept into the classroom. To use a sports analog, in the purest form, athletes work independently for the common good of the team, with the coach providing guidance. In the classroom, the same should happen. Often, however, teachers may only focus for good or bad on a few students and forgo the team mentality. It seems to me that Dr. Elms figured this out.

Finally- regardless of the discipline taught, a teachers main duty should be to get students to think critically, develop independent thoughts, and be able to defend their ideas and/or adjust them accordingly based upon new information. If you learned this you are ahead of the game. To many teachers just stand and pontificate. Teaching is more than that.

At 6:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. Reminded me of one of my professors...Stephen Boyer. He did the same thing in our theology class.

Let's hold on to our opinions, but ask questions.



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