A tale of three English teachers

Prologue

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . .  [I]t was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.

(So wrote Charles Dickens in the opening of A Tale of Two Cities.)

You’re too dumb to learn that.

(So stated an English teacher at a community college to a sincere student who was struggling and asking a question privately.  I’m of the opinion that this teacher should have retired more than a decade ago, but at last notice, she was still teaching, sadly enough.)

Thank you for caring for _________.

(So said an English teacher at another community college to me.  This teacher had been caring so much more consistently than I, yet she paused to notice someone who had been weakly doing a little something here & there.  She herself is both a learning model and a true teacher.  I hope she doesn’t retire until she’s 90.)

Down deep, he’s as good as gold.

(So said another English teacher—my father—many times, about any number of students regarded by others as “problem students.”  Dad has this annoying habit of seeing the good in everyone, and he had many rewarding teaching times because of that and other good qualities.  Dad is retired, sort of, yet he is still teaching young students to read.  He also tries to teach a few others around him, every once in a while.)

Epilogue

Although some have appreciated what I’ve tried to do for them as a teacher, I may be entering a season of not teaching—either in church or in academia.  I will miss the opportunities — which can amount to “the best of times.”  I currently feel that I’m in a time of less light, but I remain thankful for examples such as #2 and #3 above.

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Betsy said it

Her name is Betsy Kent, and she was a fixture in the University of Delaware’s Music Department while I was a grad student there.  Since she was a top-shelf accompanist, and a sweet person besides.  Everyone liked and appreciated her.  And once upon a time, she said something kind and affirming to me.

teacherBetsy said it, and I remember it.  She told me I “sounded like a teacher” when I spoke to the audience about the piece I was conducting.  I took it both as a compliment and as a sort of commission.  And I haven’t forgotten it.

Bill, a friend from different circles, also told me something like that once.  I gathered he thought it was unusual, and it was:  I tended to intersperse instructional comments while leading group worship.  He said my style was something like “didactic worship leading.”  I had mentioned that here more than 4 years ago and still haven’t forgotten it.  For better or worse, I was teaching while leading in worship.

A couple of days ago, matters in a college course I’m teaching degenerated to the point that I called this particular class the worst teaching assignment I’ve had in higher education.  To be fair to myself, most of the problem is attributable to the overall scenario, to the questionable raison d’etre for the course itself, and to certain students’ lack of experience and insight.  But I own some of it, too.  I could have done some things differently, and/or better.

I’m not that good a teacher, but I do think like one.

While a teaching orientation is ostensibly a good thing, it’s also a sort of hazard, and I feel I have to keep alert to see it and avoid it at times.  I can speak with some authority about musical pitch, driving on Interstate highways, some aspects of Christianity, salsa, and conducting (not the electrical kind).  On the other hand, I’m simply not knowledgeable enough to be holding forth on music of the Middle Ages, or Colossians, or Civil War history, or plumbing, or the possible, theological ties between the Hebrews’ esteemed Esther story and moral ethics or providence.  I have to watch it sometimes, because my gut feelings can sometimes come off like the authority of a knowledgeable teacher.  I am not alone in this — I’ve heard other teachers sound like they know something when they’re flat-wrong or just spouting opinions — but I had better think more about myself than about others.

It’s not enough to be a teacher at heart; one must have material worthy of imparting, and one must have students.  I ought to be alert to the fact that, much of the time, I don’t have much of a hearing, so I’d do well not to try to impart too much.

For the next two Sundays, I have the opportunity to teach, once again — on the tiny, frequently overlooked, almost-always- half-interpreted, chock-full-of-inspiration-and-meaning letter from Paul to Philemon.  Primarily because of the lead work of Greg Fay, I think I have something to offer with regard to Philemon.  But I have not learned it all, and I need to review it.  That will be the case with every subject I ever teach.  Always.

Forgive me for these somewhat disconnected musings, but I’m a little disconnected right now, in general.

Lord, be in my preparations and my understandings and my words and my heart.

Philemon