I have just turned in my final set of grades for the year. I teach seniors, which means I am usually done a week earlier than the rest of the school. This has been my second year teaching seniors and it was a completely different experience from last year. If anyone tells you that all teenagers are virtually the same, call them out as a liar right there. I thought I could easily connect with high school students based on my seniors last year. This year I’m starting to question if teenagers might secretly be aliens from a distant planet. I still haven’t figured out why I was not as successful in connecting with this years group of seniors and I am going to use this blog post to figure it out.
1. The first challenge I face is that I am teaching Biblical doctrine to a spiritually diverse group of students. Our school does not force you to be a Christian in order to attend, which I think is a very good thing. However, we require those same students to attend chapel and go through four years of Bible. This puts both the chaplains and Bible teachers in a very interesting position. We are trying to engage students who want to go deeper in their faith along with students who have no interest in learning the basics. I wholeheartedly believe that the gospel and the Christian story are compelling in and of themselves. This has meant that for me, what I teach does not change based on who is in the classroom. I think Christians and non-Christians alike will find the story of Jesus compelling and challenging. This strategy worked last year, it did not work this year.
2. The second challenge I face is the kind of Christianity that is commonly produced in the “Bible Belt” culture. What passes for Christianity in the South is usually indistinguishable from simply being a good American or in my case a good Texan. I will be presenting a paper on this topic in a few weeks at the Christian Scholars Conference in Nashville, TN. So the second strategy I implement in the classroom is to get my students to (as Hauerwas puts it): separate the American “we” from the Christian “we.” This was moderately successful last year and an utter failure this year.
3. At the beginning of the year I always tell my students that we can disagree with each other and still be brother and sister in Christ. As long as we can disagree in a civil way, I have no problems with it. In fact, disagreement is necessary in order to produce a semi-decent discussion. I seek to emphasize that as Christians we need to be humble and willing to be wrong. One of the comments that I received a lot last year was that I was willing to listen to a different perspective and that I was challenging but not arrogant. As you might be able to guess, my group of students this year came to different conclusions =).
I am a social teacher. This means that a lot of my inspiration is drawn from what takes place in the classroom. The unfortunate thing about being a social teacher is that you never know what you’re going to get in that classroom. As I reflect back on this year, I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a follower of Jesus. I think the best goal to set for myself next year, in light of two very different years I have had, is to do my best to reflect the image of Jesus in the classroom. At the end of the day I simply want my students to love Jesus more than they did before.
(And I guess I still haven’t figured it out even after writing the post….oh well)