Today I continue my series of posts interacting with those being produced every Tuesday by professors of theological and/or religious studies through The Wabash Center (see “Beginning this week: ‘Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda: Reflections on the First Years of Teaching’”). This week’s post was written by Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary. He writes about the pressure he experienced as a younger teacher to have all of his lectures prepared and how this wasn’t jiving with his time-management skills. Prior to one lecture he expressed his concerns to a colleague who asked, “If I have to write something down in order to remember it, why would I expect my students to integrate it into their knowledge and experience? If I have to write something down in order to remember to teach it to my students, how important is it really?” Barreto was encouraged to trust his education, to trust his preparation, to rely on his ability to inform his students even if his lectures aren’t transcribed word-for-word. Read the rest of his article for how these questions changed his approach to teaching in “How I Learned to Leave My Lectures Notes Behind…Sometimes”.
I have much experience as a student; little experience as a teacher. I can’t add to Barreto’s article from the perspective of a teacher, but I can add some thoughts from the perspective of a student. I enjoy lectures, usually, especially if informative, well-organized, and challenging. Sometimes I hate lectures, especially if someone has a monotone voice, or if I get the sense that what is being said can be found in print somewhere (sometimes I would rather read a paper in my own voice than hear it read by the author). I have learned from lectures (e.g., see my notes on this week’s lecture by Candida R Moss on “Heavenly Bodies”). Yet there has been nothing quite as helpful as a professor who knows how to balance providing information and allowing the students to engage the professor and each other.
Some of my favorite professors over the years have been those who can take a two hour block, use about half of it to tell me what I need to know about this and that, then use the other half to encourage dialogue. A fantastic example of this may be Harvard University’s Michael Sandel who teaches a class on justice. Watch some of his lectures here. You will see how he uses the group dynamic to teach in a very effective way.
Whether it has been philosophy, systematic theology, biblical literature, or other topics (not math, not languages) I have learned a lot from professors who know how to get everyone involved, or at least many of the students involved, rather than lecture the entire time. As a student I want to encourage people to consider what Barreto has written.