Top Ten ways to avoid misreading and misleading

Teaching is a difficult and risky business.Bashaw

Of course there is great joy involved in exposing students to new facts, interesting discoveries, and life-altering truths. But when all is said and done, when students leave your class armed with knowledge that may fuel their actions and guide their thoughts for years to come, the scary question lingers, “Was my teaching true?”

James is quite aware of the difficult nature of teaching when he warns in James 3:1-2:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.

I imagine that James could have been thinking about his own position of leadership in the Jerusalem church, aware that he had made mistakes in his teaching and his example. Despite the wisdom he showed during the Jerusalem Council in recognizing God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15), he also realized his example (both the good and bad parts) affected many early Christ-followers. If he struggled with the practical acceptance of Gentiles in the church, his brothers and sisters in Jerusalem would see that and be affected.

James’ warning about the dangers of teaching is especially appropriate for those of us who teach biblical truths–the pastor in the pulpit, the Bible study leader, the Christian blogger, the Scriptures professor, or any teacher who integrates faith and biblical teaching into her discipline.

Because it is so easy for us to misread and mislead.

It happens to the best of us. All you have to do is follow the blog posts on Facebook to realize that well-meaning and well-respected teachers of the Bible regularly misrepresent what the Bible actually teaches. Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who helps Christians manage their finances, has recently been criticized because his “biblical principles” of money management contradict the biblical message about wealth and poverty. Infamous Famous pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church has ignited so many blog and article wars with his controversial teaching (especially regarding the subject of women in the Bible and the Church) that a Google search for “Mark Driscoll AND wrong” turns up over a million hits. Even teachers and pastors who have some important, helpful things to say sometimes fall into the trap of irresponsibly interpreting Scripture. And for some reason, it is the bad readings of Scripture that always seem to spread faster and farther than the accurate ones.

So we must be careful teachers of Scripture. It is difficult to interpret the Bible responsibly  and faithfully but we who teach the Bible must take that task seriously and try to minimize misreading and misleading as best we can. In my ongoing quest to become a responsible interpreter and teacher of the Bible, I have learned some important lessons (mostly the hard way!) about reading, interpreting, and teaching the Bible.

Here are my top ten ways to avoid misreading the Bible and misleading others:

1) Know yourself. It is important to be aware of your own biases and preconceived ideas when you interpret Scripture. Everyone comes to the Bible with prejudices, formed by nationality, economic status, ethnicity, families of origin, church tradition, experiences, etc. Being aware of these biases helps to curb assumptions and forces an interpreter to consider that his or her view may be pre-formed rather than based on Scripture.

2) Read a passage in its literary context. When someone studies a verse or a passage it is important to read the verses and paragraphs before and after that passage to understand what is going on. The best practice is to also be aware of the message of an entire book so that it is easier to understand the purpose of an individual passage in the overarching story or letter. [as a side note it is also helpful to know the genres of the Bible and read according to genre]

2) Know the history. Interpreting a passage well requires knowledge of the social and historical context in which that text was written. For example, it is important to know that Revelation was written in a first-century Greco-Roman context and that the first readers of the book were experiencing persecution and were being tempted to worship the emperor rather than God. Such information helps us make better sense of the emphasis on worshiping God, the images of judgment for persecutors, and the firm warnings to repent.

3) Be aware that  all translation involves interpretation. Most words in the original Hebrew and Greek of the Scriptures do not have exact counterparts in English. For this reason, many translations of words and concepts are close but not perfect interpretations. It is dangerous to base a belief or teaching on one word (say the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23) when our word for head in English has many connotations that the Greek did not have.

4) Recognize the distance between the world of the Bible and our world. When reading ancient literature like the Bible it is important to ask, “What did this mean to them?” and then gauge what differences exist between the world of the Bible and our world. This one of the most foundational skills required in biblical interpretation. A great resource that focuses on finding the meaning of a biblical text in “their” world before interpreting it in “our” world is Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. All biblical interpreters should read a book (or books!) on practical hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) before attempting to teach the Bible in a formal setting.

5) Know the whole story. Reading the Bible should not be like eating at a buffet. We don’t get to choose what to accept and what not to accept. The Bible is like a many-course meal, with each part served in preparation for the next. We have to read the whole story, know the whole message, in order to fully appreciate and understand the individual parts.

6) Be open to being wrong. Given that every interpreter has preconceived ideas about the Bible, and given that there is always more to learn about the history and literature of the ancient world, it is vital that we resist becoming dogmatic about our interpretations. Even the most brilliant of theologians and most devoted of pastors change their minds about Scripture as they study more and live more.

7) Read the opinions of Christians who disagree with you. There is great value in listening to and reading interpreters who differ from you. If you are an evangelical conservative, make it a practice to read the works of liberal theologians or Catholic scholars. If you are a Baptist preacher, listen to sermons from Pentecostal pastors and Episcopalian priests. If you are an egalitarian, read complementarians (no matter how angry they may make you!). If you are a Calvinist, read Arminians. Willingness to learn from others has no down side. Such practice can show you new ways to look at a passage, help you strengthen your own views, or open your mind to a new perspective or a new truth.

8) Use words like “probably” and “likely” instead of “definitely” and “without a doubt.” In light of #6 and #7, it is a good idea for teachers to keep their language open to possibility. First, it lets students know that interpreting the Bible well is a process, one that will not end until we no longer see through a glass darkly. Second, in the age of blogs and podcasts, what you teach may be on record for ever; it is always better to leave room for growth and change rather than creating a situation in which you may have to blatantly contradict yourself in ten years.

9) Read other literature. Read ancient literature and Victorian novels and contemporary fiction and poetry and essays and biographies. Read other literature because it makes you a better reader and interpreter of the Bible, which contains some of the most complex and beautiful literature in history.

10) Pray daily and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to truth. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:26, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” If the apostles, who witnessed Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, who were immersed in his teaching and love and truth, if even these were going to need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them, don’t you think we lowly teachers of Scripture need it too?

jgb

 

 

 

Discipleship in Christian Education

makingdisciples

Disciple:

a:  one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another
b:  one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts
c:  a convinced adherent of a school or individual


Student’s see professors through a very narrow perspective;  life experiences thus far. They can only compare you to their previous experiences, and they are at the mercy of their current situation. Their perspective influences how they interact with you ,and how they expect you to interact with them.

For instance, at the beginning of the semester I always have a few students that cannot understand why I won’t take late work. They fuss and complain, not getting them any closer to me accepting their late work. By the end of the semester, I don’t have any students kicking and screaming about late work because this is the new ‘norm’ in their perspective.

I think it is important for me to understand and consider why students behave the way they do. They behave this way because, at some point, this behavior got them what they wanted and it was reinforced.  This brings me to my next reflection….

Recently, I had a student that sent me a text to landline message. This type of message occurs when the student decides to send a text message to my office phone rather than calling my office phone.

I was checking my voicemail one day this week and this is what it said in a robot computer voice…

“Hey Dr. McRee. This is (student’s name). I am sorry I missed class. I slept straight through my alarm. I was wondering what all I missed today.”

At first glance, this looks like the student is really trying to get the information from class. However….. After I emailed her back telling her to come to my office to go over what she missed, she did not come to my office. I plan to explain to her in detail that I appreciate her reaching out, but that her efforts were minimal. Technology cannot replace your personal work ethic and follow through.

Am I a bad professor for telling her this? Has no one ever told her this? A number of questions run through my head. I ask fellow professors and they agree that she could improve her professional interaction.

Which brings up another question… How do we as professors help shape our students in ways that are not grade related?

I was at an ETBU leadership workshop ( Breakfast with Fred ) earlier this semester and this was one of the proposed questions. So, I asked my students if they think that I help them develop in the ways listed below. These 10 items were published in a journal article as the “Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace”

  1. Integrity
  2. Communication
  3. Courtesy
  4. Responsibility
  5. Interpersonal skills
  6. Positive attitude
  7. Professionalism
  8. Flexibility
  9. Teamwork skills
  10. Work ethic

I personally could only pick out three that I could actually attach a grade to the “soft skill”. BUT, to my surprise… My students justified how I was able to teach them all the 10 skills without always assigning a grade to each of them. We had an honest conversation and it was interesting to see their perspective. I was shocked and told them I was very flattered… I told them that many times I don’t feel like I am able to breakthrough with some of these skills because of the dynamics of grading in higher education. I ensured them that these skills are needed in the real world, but that sometimes I am unsure of how successful I am at implementing them in the classroom.

So, as I reflect back on the TEXT to LANDLINE situation, I can see clearly that this is an opportunity to disciple this student. Interactions such as these do not always lead to a quantified grade, but they do shape the future leaders & graduates of ETBU.

My goals moving forward are to change the perspective of my students early on. To consider where they are, understand why they are the way that they are, and provide support for them to get to the behavior they need. To take situations on a student-by-student basis, and see what they need from me to mature. It is important to disciple our students… even if it means giving them feedback in ways not related to their grades.

LM

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 453-465. doi:10.1177/1080569912460400

Podcast Progress

My reflection of my podcast experience with my students thus far has been a positive one.

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc

It is important to note that the Podcasts in my class are not meant to replace the in-class learning experience. It is meant to enhance it. The idea of a “Flipped” classroom is that the students are more prepared to ask questions, and discuss the topic.

 Students will need time to adjust to the new classroom expectations. Some students expressed frustration that they had an assignment outside of class.  I addressed this perception with my students… However, the students that are frustrated about listening to the podcast are also the ones not reading the textbook, or turning in other assignments.

So thus far, I can say that the podcast has enhanced the learning experience for students that are wanting… and willing to learn. It hinders those students that are already underperforming. I do not believe it is the podcast that is facilitating this behavior, rather the initial LOW-achieving behavior that is working against the purpose of the podcast.

I will keep introducing one podcast with each test. On the next podcast, I plan to quiz them on the material at the beginning of class. This will help me gauge how many students are listening to the podcast prior to coming to class. My goal is to get all of my students to listen to the 30 minute podcast prior to coming to class so we can have more meaningful & interactive discussion.

I will keep everyone posted on the progress.

When Empathy Backfires

I almost never get angry in the classroom.Bashaw

I place a high value on empathy and understanding, so in most stress-inducing situations involving students, I make myself stop and consider perspective of the student. For example, if a student has forgotten to do his journal assignment three classes in a row, I tell myself, “Perhaps this was a difficult week for him.” Or if someone makes a belligerent comment towards me in class, I reassure myself, saying, “Perhaps her family environment has developed this trait in her but she means no harm.”

But yesterday, the classroom empathy that I take great pride in, finally (and with finality!) failed me. I experienced a boiling fury—the kind that starts as bubbling acid in your belly, spreads like poison through your shaking limbs, and results in a red-faced, hyperventilating eruption—and I almost spewed fire and sulfur (of the Sodom and Gomorrah type) all over my Biblical Interpretation students.

she-hulk08pic2Roughly two-thirds of my class had not done their reading OR their homework!!! The reading schedule was on the syllabus and I had even reminded them of the details of the assignment during our previous class meeting. And yet, thirteen of my (Religion!) students showed up completely unprepared for class. I was shocked and hurt and angry and I wondered, “What went wrong?”

It was then the great spirit of empathy I had patiently practiced, which usually resulted in a renewal of hope and optimism in my heart, showed me that last thing I thought it would…reality.

As I stared into the eyes of my slacking students, I felt what they felt. They did not do their work because they knew, from their former experience with me, that I would allow them to turn in their work late, even very late, with only a 10-point penalty. And they had decided that the lack of preparation was worth the penalty.

I realized in that moment that empathy in the classroom is not always a good thing.

I went to sleep that night with a clawing feeling in my stomach. I had always thought that mercy and empathy were the twin pillars that made me who I was as a person and a teacher. And I liked those characteristics in me. Those were pillars I constructed to emulate Jesus’ life and characteristics. But it seemed that those pillars were crumbling at the cracks and I did not understand why.

Then today God showed up to spackle and buttress my pillars.

As is often the case, God encouraged me in a mundane, unexpected moment. In preparation for another class, I watched a short video by Daniel Goleman about leadership and the three kinds of empathy. A good leader, he explains, practices all three kinds of empathy:

1) cognitive empathy—the ability to see things from another person’s perspective

2) emotional empathy—the ability to feel another person’s feelings

3) empathic concern—the ability to help another person to do better and be better

And it became clear what was wrong with my empathy.

I  had been passionately practicing the first two kinds of empathy, seeing the perspectives of my students and feeling what they felt, but I had not begun to help them to be better or do better in my class. I was not showing the third kind of empathy, empathic concern. My “merciful” policy about late work and my deep “understanding” of extenuating circumstances had worked to my students’ detriment.

So what God taught me this week was that being an truly empathetic teacher means being an abler for my students…not an enabler. May God give me the strength to do just that.

The Baggage We Bring to the Classroom

In my biblical interpretation class, we often talk about what we bring to the text when we read the Bible. None of us interprets Scripture in an objective or neutral way; we have pre-understandings and biases, “baggage” from our culture, family history, religious background and experiences that shape the way we interpret.

I think that we carry similar baggage when we come to the lectern. We have a complex matrix of predispositions constantly affecting what we teach, which style we use, how we communicate, and who we connect with in the classroom. In order to become a better teacher each of us has to become aware of our baggage.  As the knowledge of our inclinations grows, so also will our ability to recognize areas for improvement. With this in mind, I want to take inventory of my baggage and explore how this baggage plays out in the classroom. This exploration may feel a bit like a confessional, so I apologize in advance for the unfettered transparency that follows:

  • The sexist suitcase—I realize that in our culture and in many cultures throughout history, sexism has mainly taken the form of a preference for males coupled with a bias against females. My sexism is completely the opposite. In my family growing up, girls seemed to be valued and favored over boys. My aunts and female cousins were dominant, successful, and smart. They garnered most of the attention while my uncles and male cousins were the ones who faded into the background. Although much of my extended family is Mexican, we have been a matriarchal family for many decades, because my grandma was the head of our family. For my whole childhood, then, my family dynamics unconsciously reinforced the idea that girls were more treasured and important not just in our clan but in society. That history, coupled with the anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better attitude I have held towards boys since I was young, causes me to favor female students in the classroom. I have to be aware of this when I teach so that I can balance out my tendencies with purposeful efforts to view my students equally. It is a constant battle I face.
  • The Case of the Extrovert—As an extreme “E” extrovert (ENFP on Myers-Briggs), it is difficult for me to think like an introvert. I have a tendency to favor the students who will speak up in class, assuming that they understand the most and work the hardest. However, I have learned from experience that many of my introverts will never say a word in class but will ace tests and write eloquent, thought-provoking papers. I must not let my own personality and proclivities influence the way I interact with my students. In order to fight against my wrong-headed tendency, I try to vary my teaching style and provide activities in class that cater to both introverts and extroverts. If I assign a skit to be performed in class, I will make sure that a part of the process involves behind-the-scenes work that will favor an introvert’s strengths as well. It is one step in the long process toward overcoming the personality baggage I bring to the classroom.
  • The Chaos Carry-on—I function well in chaos. I don’t know if that has to do with my large and loud family, or my preference for high-energy environments, or my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants personality, or the fact that I am quite far from the type-A personality. Probably all of the above. Because of this, my classes tend to be disorganized flexibly arranged, open to changes, and less structured, and sometime even cacophonous. There are advantages to this kind of class. I love to be able to tailor a class to the personalities of its students. If I have assigned reading quizzes but realize that I have students who enjoy sharing and debating, I will change the format to discussion and play to their strengths. I also believe that having too much structure and too many rubrics discourages creative thinking and imaginative work. Now, I can appreciate organization, and I recognize the value of rubrics and strict scheduling, and I even understand how some people prefer to learn in quiet, solitary settings. But that is not me. However, my type-A students tend to be frustrated with my flexibility and they do not learn well in a chaotic class. For this reason, I must strive for more organization and structure, even when it goes against my style. This is difficult for me but I know practice will make perfect.

These are the pieces of my classroom baggage that I have come to recognize in the last couple of years and that I am working on. There are many more on the baggage claim carousal that I have not recognized as mine. But I will keep searching myself and my culture and my history because I owe it to my students to recognize that baggage so that I become the best teacher I can…for all of them.