Why I Teach (II): Having an Impact on Students

(See my earlier post on the topic of why I teach HERE).

Many of you know I am teacher of record for my own class this semester at Baylor, “Introduction to Christian Scriptures.”  The course is entirely mine to develop . . . . syllabus, lectures, tests, writing, quizzes, everything.  It has been a great experience, and I continue to be thankful for it.  I am also very thankful for my students.  I have already stated how impressed I have been with them.  With an enrollment of 58 in the class, it is structured to be largely lecture-based.  This, however, has been far from the case.  Class has been more like a conversation.  Never have I had to wait for a response to a question; if anything I have to stop the conversation to move on and stay on schedule with lecture!  But the class has been a blessing . . . . they are a thoughtful, engaged group with a great sense of humor.

This weekend at Baylor is parents’ weekend, and this morning–along with the rest of the Baylor faculty from every other department–I was available to meet the parents of those who wanted to or were able to stop by.  It was great for me not just to meet the parents of some of my students, but to hear from the parents the impact I have had on their kids already.  It was very motivating, inspiring, and affirming.  Several parents told me their student had said my class is their favorite.  That meant a lot (especially since the class I teach is required for every Baylor undergrad). 

In addition to general comments that my class was their favorite, I also had students (most of whom came with their parents), but also parents, telling me very rewarding things.  One student, when he introduced me to his family, said “this is Professor John Anderson, and he makes learning the Bible actually fun.”  Another of the students said explicitly that my class is by far her favorite; she gave a glowing review in front of her mother.  And I apparently have had an impact on another student to the point that her mother asked to take a picture of the student and I together.  I was happy to oblige!  It was a tremendously positive and rewarding experience to see that my students feel this way about me.

Of course, due to FERPA I can’t share many (read: any) specific details about the student’s attendance, performance, etc.  This was by no means a hindrance to conversation, though.  There were actually points where I had parents waiting to meet me (and, sadly, I wasn’t able to get to everyone).  I felt it was very important to articulate to the students and parents that they matter . . . that I am glad they are here.  The parents were tremendously impressed with my ability to learn the names of my 58 students and address them all by name.  I shared with them how my undergrad was at a small liberal arts school where the largest class was about 20 people.  I told them I “craved” that one-on-one attention from the professor, I wanted them to know who I am.  And since that was so important to me, especially in an entirely new context (college!), I could understand how and why that would be important to those in my class.  Of course the parents felt tremendously comforted by this.  It is, however, entirely true.  I also discussed with them how, despite the class size, I consider myself fortunate to have a group that is willing to engage (are you sensing that as a key word?) and ask questions because that is where some of the true learning happens.  I firmly believe this to be the case too.

So, why do I teach?  For a variety of reasons.  But, added to the list now is not only that I can confidently say my students have had an impact on me, but I have had an impact on my students.  That means a lot, is greatly affirming . . . and is pretty darn cool!


5 thoughts on “Why I Teach (II): Having an Impact on Students

  1. John Anderson says:

    Patrick: Good question. I’m not entirely sure; it just seems natural and comfortable to me. I’m not beyond having fun. Religion is a very visceral topic . . . it is far more important to a person than math, science, etc. . . so I think being able to have fun with it is a key.

    To offer a more concrete answer, though, here are some things that come to mind when I reflect on my teaching thus far (some obvious, some perhaps not so obvious).

    1) Learn your students’ names. And use them. Greet them by name when they walk in the room. Talk with them before class. It is incredible how far this goes. It is tremendously important.

    2) Have a sense of humor. This, to me, is tremendously important. Levity is a vital part of my teaching. I want it to be fun, yet helpful. In the blogging world you wouldn’t know this, but I’m actually quite quick and sharp-witted, so I like to interject various bits of humor into the class, and a bit of improv. The students seem to find me funny, which is always a plus. The potential downside to this is if you are genuinely not funny; then this could cost you points! But I do think jokes, levity are important vectors to my success at teaching.

    3) Set high expectations, and hold to them. Yes, my students find me hilarious. They also, though, know I am a serious scholar (I must be one because I did the unthinkable . . . . I said the textbook was “wrong” about something!!). My syllabus is tremendously explicit as to my expectations. My class will be work. It will not be easy. But it will be fair. And I am glad to be helpful along the way. I also see my course, since it is composed of 98% freshmen, as an exercise preparing them for the next four years of college and beyond. If I cut them too much slack I am doing them a disservice. But again, be fair—impossibly unattainable goals are counter-productive. For instance, I give quizzes. POP quizzes. On any given day they can have a reading quiz. This keeps them honest with the reading. It shows I expect they will do the reading. Similarly, they are doing three brief writing assignments. I have specific expectations I have outlined clearly there. So set high expectations. You will have students who will certain students who will readily meet the challenge, and a great many who will work assiduously towards that goal as well. This is college; it should be a challenge.

    4) Make your expectations CLEAR. Clarity will only help you out, and your students.

    5) In the classroom, don’t lecture from a script. I do not use lecture notes. I use powerpoint (though I dislike it very much), but it is helpful to me. It serves largely as my notes, giving me a prompt upon which I can then expand. Just think about how tiring it can be to listen to papers at SBL sometimes. Now imagine undergrads doing that. So be a dynamic lecturer as best you can.

    6) Be mobile in the classroom. Don’t stand in one spot the whole time. I’m all over the place when I teach. Up front, on the side, approaching individual students as they ask questions. I’m everywhere. I think it adds something to the class.

    7) Let the students realize you are a real person. This may seem a bit odd to say, but make sure they know a bit about you. The first day of class this semester I spent half the class covering the syllabus then another half doing an introduction to me. I included some pictures of me growing up (along with a funny, made up narrative to go along with them), as well as a picture of my wife and son, my time at Duke, a picture of the famous Corn Palace from my home town, etc.

    8) Be approachable and welcoming outside of class as well. Always reply to student emails, promptly, and with respect and proper email form you would expect (though not always get) from them. And if a student schedules an office visit, be open and helpful. I try to come out from behind the desk and sit across from them; it balances things out and I think contributes to the comfort.

    There’s a few. I may make this into a post of its own. So, what do you think?

  2. stephanie louise fisher says:

    I still keep in touch with my first lecturer in religion. He inspired me from the first lecture to venture down this exciting and windy road. The thing that I admire most about him is his humility. I always consider him to be a very wise, gentle and extremely humble man.

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