The Joy of the Teacher

In today’s post, I am going to comment on the joy with which I am most familiar, the joy of the teacher. Dr. Willard writes on the role of the pastor in today’s church. One of the roles of today’s pastor is to be a teacher. This is something I am familiar with. In tomorrow’s post, I am going to begin to comment on the joys with which I am not, the joys of the preacher.

I began to see that I wanted to teach early on in my college life. I have blogged about him before, but like so many who have come before me, I was inspired by a truly magnificent teacher.

In short, I found that I wanted to be like him.

I strongly suspect that inspirational people are a common reason for a person’s vocational choice.

I remember thinking that his whole reason for being seemed wrapped around the idea that he would inspire new ideas in the minds of others.

As far as I was concerned, I saw a lot of joy in that.

I have never felt like I was a great thinker. I have never felt like I was a person that others came to for answers. I have never felt like I was even a great leader in the classroom.

As Dr. Willard says, I felt like a fellow learner.

One thing that I have always had and still do have is a curiosity about life. By this I mean there is a lot in life that I want to learn.

The most pleasing forum I have ever found for learning is the classroom.

I began formal teaching in 1975 when I was “thrown” into a composition classroom at Western Kentucky University. I was given an English class to teach as a graduate assistant.

It was a wonder that I survived the experience but I did.

I have often wondered what those students got out of my fledgling efforts.

But I learned something early on which I have held with me today. You don’t walk into a learning environment alone. You join the room as a human being surrounded by other human beings who are capable of interacting with you. It is in that interaction that learning occurs.

I have had my experiences with teachers who had to lecture. They might as well be in a room alone. They walked in and spoke from their notes. My first history teacher in college was like that. I have no doubt that he was highly regarded in his profession. He had a specialization in Russian history and was given an intro to U.S. history section to teach. He was a short man. He walked in, plopped his notes on his lectern and began to read. He never looked up. He never took a question. He read and then closed up his notes and then left. One hour of monotone reading and he thought that was teaching.

What were the students feeling about his pronouncements? Did they agree? Did they disagree? Was some point he was making unclear? Did they have a quest for further knowledge? Could he have stimulated them to learn more?

He never knew. He did not seem to care. He was not a teacher. He was a reader of his notes. He had to have control.

This experience taught me what not to do.

Ignore students.

This experience taught me where learning was.

With students.

I am asked why I still enjoy teaching. After 36 years of full-time teaching at a community college, I still like it. Adult Sunday School teaching is fun for me as well as an occasional class at church. I would like to teach an adult Bible study one day, maybe even a Disciple Bible Study, if people want it.


Dr. Willard quotes the renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor Henri Nouwen (pronounced Henry Now-win) who wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. He “nails it” with the words: “the teacher has to learn from his student….Teachers and students are fellowmen who together are searching for what is true, meaningful and valid, and who give each other the chance to play each other’s roles.”

That is the real joy of the teacher. The quest for what is true and the journey along the way. It involves active dialogue between teacher and student. It involves the teacher becoming the student. It involves the teacher respecting the student’s part in the process. For a teaching pastor, I suspect the process is the same.

I am still trying to be a better teacher. I still feel the presence of my early inspiring teacher in my heart today. I know that he is no longer on this earth other than in my heart and in the heart of other students that he inspired.

He existed to bring out the best in others. He wanted his students to learn.

At sixty-three. Still curious. Thanks Ben.


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