Down to Earth (A Lesson in Pedagogical Humility)
Well, my first foray into the academic world on the other side of the lectern is rapidly drawing to a close. Today marked the beginning of my last week of classes in what has been a fairly enjoyable and challenging adventure. I suppose many people’s first experience as a teacher is a weird combination of exhilaration and terror and my experience has certainly been no different. I always find myself second-guessing myself on the drive home: “Could I have explained that better?” “Was that a helpful exercise?” “Why didn’t I think of that response in class?” etc, etc.
Most of the time I have a vague sense that the class has been a useful experience for the students, but there are certainly times when this seems less obvious than others. It has, undoubtedly, been a valuable process for me to go through though. I’ve gained a whole new appreciation both for the challenges and pressures that instructors face, and for the rewards that come from the classroom environment.
One of those “rewards” came in this morning’s class. We were talking about the social nature of human thought—how our thinking is influenced by the communities which raise and nurture us, and how our biblical interpretation ought to take advantage of the wisdom of others. I had just finished discussing one of the slides on the PowerPoint, and was about to race on to the next one (one of the lessons I’ve learned about myself this semester is that I have a very difficult time getting through my lectures—some rabbit trails just prove too tempting, I suppose…) when a student asked if I could leave it up so she could copy it down. Apparently, the way I had worded something seemed worth preserving to her, and she was going to put it up on her Facebook page (for the few brave lingering souls who don’t know, Facebook is the extremely popular social networking website that is currently taking over the world).
“Well, how about that,” I thought. “How flattering.” “Imagine—someone wanting to post my thoughts in a public forum!” I was a little taken aback (in a vain and self-congratulatory sort of way). Well what option did I have but to stand aside and let the students lay hold of the many and varied pearls of wisdom and insight that were, obviously, pouring forth from within me? What could I do but humbly give them time to record this wealth of illumination? Intoxicating visions of eager and hungry minds greedily devouring my every word, of appreciative and adoring young men and women mining the fathomless depths of my intellect for the endless treasures that it contained began to flood my increasingly inflated brain…
As I stood there, basking in my own brilliance, imagining the faint warm glow that must be characterizing my countenance, it occurred to me that maybe I should say something while the students were feverishly scribbling/typing down the precious quote. As much as I was appreciating the opportunity to silently delight in the torrent of enlightenment that was so obviously gushing up from the depths of my (quite holy) soul, perhaps some of the students might actually be expecting me to fill the dead air.
So I descended from the “mountain,” so to speak, and, returning to the land of mere mortals, I asked them: “Just out of curiosity, how many of you are on Facebook?” Virtually every hand in the room shot up. “Well,” I said, still feeling my heart strangely warmed by my obvious wit, charm, and pedagogical proficiency, “maybe it would be better to ask how many of you are not on Facebook!” (not only am I clever, you see, but culturally “relevant” and technologically savvy to boot!). One or two hands meagerly rose, and then a comment emerged from the back row:
“Do you mean right now?”
And thus marked the end of my little moment. Apparently, to my great surprise, my students do not spend every minute of every class gratefully hanging on my every word. Apparently, even my penetrating and transformative theological insights are no match for the powerful cultural phenomenon that is Facebook (I’m sure you, too, are reeling with astonishment as you read these words—I’ll give you a line break to recover).
And so, after turning three or four shades of red and doubling over with laughter, I somehow managed to piece together the few salvageable scraps of my pride and dignity that had survived the Facebook assault, and made it through the rest of the class. It’s a good thing there’s only one class left—I’m not sure my fragile sense of self-worth can take much more of this.