Composition and Coffee beans: How owning a coffeeshop made me a better professor

PaperFew here in East Texas are aware that when I held an assistant professor position at a sister university I owned a small coffeeshop in downtown Plainview, TX. My wife and I had a grand idea to purchase and remodel a mid-century diner to take on new life as a gourmet coffee shop and local hang-out. Just as she was finishing her bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech we purchased the building, completed renovations, and opened in time for a new school year. I would maintain my full-time teaching job while she ran the family business.

Two months later a small hiccup left me running a new business fulltime, teaching a full load, and my wife at home with severe morning sickness that left her bed-ridden. Her aversion to strong smells—coffee being her least favorite—forced me to actually strip down and jump in the shower before I was allowed to greet her from a long day at both jobs.  So, I became the sole proprietor while my wife took on the equally challenging task of a mother to one, and then a year later, two children. Even though those six years number among the most challenging years of my life, I learned a number of important things that have made me a better equipped college professor.

Now, there are a few obvious elements of owning a coffeeshop that may well serve an English professor. The endless supply of fresh and delicious coffee left me with all the energy I needed for late night grading and early morning classes. The proximity to the lives of students who frequented my shop and were employed as baristas allowed me a unique role in educating and training them in and out of the classroom. And, my position as a small-business owner allowed me a unique perspective by which to teach my freshmen students the ins-and-outs of professional writing.

Yet, the most valuable thing I learned from owning a coffeeshop is something that is more profound, but less obvious.  It is a lesson that plays a critical role in my approach to teaching at a small, faith-based university.

When my wife and I first opened our shop, we, like most independent coffeeshop owners at that time, found our inspiration from Starbucks, the world famous coffee purveyor that introduced the American public to Italian-styled coffee drinks like the espresso and the cappuccino. We set our menu options and our prices to reflect our similarity with the chain. We were proud when customers compared us in a positive way to the coffee giant. And, even while we strived to create products that were superior in quality, we knew that we owed a great debt of gratitude to the big guys for every dollar put in our cash register.

However, over the course of our six years in the business things changed drastically, not just in our coffeeshop, but in independent coffeeshops around the nation.  These coffeeshops adopted what has become known as the “third wave.”

latte artThe “third wave” approach to artisanal coffee is characterized by promoting sustainable growing practices, purchasing beans directly from farmers—a practice that pays fair prices and cuts out the middle-man—and pursuing careful roasting methods that enhance flavor without burning the coffee (Most third wave coffee is lightly roasted).  It is also associated with alternative brewing methods, like the pour-over, that celebrate the inherent uniqueness of each coffee variety. Baristas began pouring latte art and talking about the specific flavor qualities of single-origin beans—beans from a specific lot of an individual estate rather than beans from a given nation, like Columbia.

Small coffeeshops took on practices that not only produced the best product but were healthy for the local and global community. And, those small, independent shops are really the only places capable of providing that level of quality and that amount of positive community interaction.

Small, independent shops that embraced the “third wave” approach have become so numerous and popular that the large corporations are now trying to emulate them. Starbucks now has pour over coffee and serves a “blonde” roast. Chick-Fil-A now serves coffee that is advertised as purchased directly from small, family farms. And, latte art now makes regular appearances in Hollywood blockbusters and on the packaging of grocery store creamers.

So, as a professor at a small, faith-based university, this observation is the most important thing I have learned from the coffee business. It is the observation that a group of purposeful, highly-trained and creative individuals that dedicate themselves to their craft can operate a successful venture and provide a valuable and satisfactory service to its proprietors in ways that challenge the establishment. What if the small, faith-based university could approach education in the same way that independent coffeeshops approach coffee?

As a professor at ETBU I know that if we embrace the best practices of education we can provide the highest standard of education to our students. But we must also ask ourselves what we can do better. How can we best utilize our role as a small school that has a high teacher/student ratio to provide better small-group instruction? How can we push the educational envelope in fresh and meaningful ways to provide students with a quality of education that they can’t get at one of the big guys? In what ways can we use our model to train our students and give them hands-on experience for service to both the local and global community? How can we make the small university education cool again?

DS

Faith outside of Church

It’s not a simple question.  Where does my faith intersect with my discipline?  I mean, I grew up as a preacher’s kid going to Sunday school and church and camp and Bible drill and more church… even Wednesday night business meetings. I checked all the right boxes on my envelope and turned it into the offering plate. I memorized Scriptures to win a bicycle, sang in the youth choir, and went to vacation Bible school and mission trips. Born and raised Southern Baptist, but is that my faith?

I loved math and science.  I studied the earth, the sky, the outdoors, animals and the wonders of nature.  I wanted to be an astronaut or scientist.  And through high school struggled with how my faith fit with science.

I tried to merge the two areas of my life by going to a small Christian college, East Texas Baptist College (ETBC…I was here before U.) and majoring in biology.  As with most liberal arts colleges, ETBU was not known for its science education. You know, the science professors here probably couldn’t get a job at a real university so they settled for teaching at a liberal arts college.  Still I enjoyed my classes, and although the coursework was more challenging than high school, I made A’s and had plenty of time for extracurricular activities such as Christian ministries as well as pranks other social activities.

It was during these years that I discovered my so called faith was really more religion than relationship.  I spent the first two years of college as a bed-side Baptist playing the religion game. Then at one of the chapels I didn’t sleep in, or a BSU revival week, or a Bible study in the dorm, or somewhere it clicked that the relationship was more important than the religion. Even Jesus said that eternal life was getting to know God and His Son (John 17:3). The Bible became a fountain of knowledge about Jesus and God (even the Old Testament). My faith was flourishing. Obviously I needed to become a minister right? I added a minor in religion. That would take care of that faith and discipline problem.

Still had a love of science… Can a scientist be a minister?

I received my degree in biology and scored high enough to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.  When I entered Texas A&M, I was directed to the large animal surgical ward in a neuroscience lab.  I found the professor in the middle of surgery in which he was inserting a probe into a cow’s brain.  As he operated, he described the various regions of the brain as the probe passed through them.  As he talked, I found myself totally ignorant of any of the anatomy he described.  I was embarrassed with my lack of knowledge and, in my mind, blamed the poor instruction I received in my undergraduate anatomy class.  I figured that the instructor had skipped those portions of the textbook because he did not know the material.  Of course, what should you expect from a small college where the science professors were probably second-rate or last-chance employees?

Sometime later, I was moving boxes of my old textbooks when a lab manual fell on the ground.  It was my human anatomy lab manual from ETBU. Remembering my embarrassment in the surgical ward, I took this opportunity to revisit my disgust of the former anatomy professor. I turned to the nervous system section and found a picture of the brain.  Instead of being skipped over, I found every blank filled in with proper terminology.  On top of that, it was in my own handwriting!

Not only had the professor gone over this material, he had covered it completely.  Apparently, my learning was not learning after all, but it was short-term memorizing.  I had crammed for the tests and made the grade, but did not learn the material.  My graduate work at Texas A&M took longer to finish than it should have.  I had to spend some of that time relearning the things I had not truly learned during my undergraduate years.

Intersection of faith and discipline? How about working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23)? Doing my best in all endeavors, including studying. Is that faith?

Faith intersects my Life… Not just at church. Now I look for those intersections in everyday life.  I hope to let you in on the larger intersections I find…

Ironically, I became a biology professor at ETBU, (insert God’s laughter here), where I try to encourage my students to learn it right the first time. And this job was not my last choice…It was my calling and my ministry!

The Necessity of Reflection

There are many surprising truths I have learned in my semester of blogging—that vulnerability is powerful, that online community can be Bashawtangible and unifying, that bloggers are often on the front lines in the war against injustice and ignorance (and are sometimes the most blatant promoters of injustice and ignorance).

But the greatest thing blogging has taught me is the necessity of reflection.

Reflection is necessary for self-understanding and societal awareness—As human beings living in an age of hyper-technology, we tend to think we are more connected to people and ourselves than we have ever been. We believe that watching 24-hour news, following the latest YouTube trends, and posting our daily activities and random emotions on Facebook make us experts on people, connections, and ourselves. But, in reality, we are less aware of our own feelings and problems and blind to the needs of others because we do not take the time to think, reflect, and write. We fill our heads with the opinions of others and never stop to consider how we feel about those opinions, never process the changes in the world and the changes in our hearts. Reflection is the antidote to ignorance of self and society.

Reflection is necessary for teaching—Since I have only been a full-time professor for two-years , I am clearly not an expert educator. Every day, I make mistakes in my teaching. In academia, however, there is an unwritten rule of “fake it until you make it” (even if you never actually “make it”). We think that in order for students and other teachers to respect us and listen to us, we have be experts, to always be right, to never show weakness. And so we fake knowledge and good teaching until we forget that we are faking and begin to believe that we do know everything. And that makes it hard to know our faults, hard to listen to others, and hard to learn and grow as teachers.

Robert Frost had it right when he wrote, “I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.” Reflecting and talking about myself and my teaching this semester (however narcissistic it may sound), opened my eyes to the areas in which I needed to grow. As I shared these areas for improvement in my blog, I was teaching others. And, beautifully and ironically, what I taught to others was always what I most needed to learn.

Reflection is necessary for faith—It is quite popular these days to talk about faith as a journey. This is far more than a trendy illustration; the idea originally comes from the Bible. In Scripture, we can follow the stories of people of faith, from Abraham to Esther and Levi to Paul, and see that faithful living requires forward movement and a purposed destination.

Faith is moving forward—moving away from the old self and its desires and moving toward the new self, the new kingdom, a new calling. And movement forward does not occur without a radical change in perspective and situation. Abraham’s faith required a geographical shift of epic proportions. Esther’s faith demanded death-defying courage and commitment. Levi’s faith forced a career transfer, from tax-collecting to disciple-making. Paul’s faith necessitated a name change and initiated one of the most significant life transformations in all of history. Faith compels us to change. But we cannot change, cannot move forward, if we do not know who we are and where we are now.

So, reflection is necessary for faith because reflection is necessary for change.

The greatest truth I have learned from blogging is that reflection is what moves us forward; it gives us the tools and time to understand ourselves and our society; it unveils our faults, our inadequacies, and our need for improvement; it forces us to not just have faith but to do faith; it motivates us to follow God’s call, to reform (re-form!) our hearts, and transform, not just our lives, but our world.

 

jgb

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander…

Watch this Video : http://youtu.be/8H48vMYu1J0

Hillsong United – Oceans (Where my feet may fail)

” Spirit Lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Whenever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

in the presence of the Savior

I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise

My soul will rest in your embrace

For I am yours and you are mine”

This past Sunday I was introduced to this praise and worship song. I remember thinking back to lifeguard training. We would tread water for 20 minutes straight with our hands above the water in-order to get our lifeguard certification. We started with 5 minutes, then we trained for 10 minutes. Eventually, we mastered 20 minutes. This skill was required and needed for life saving purposes. If I was drowning, I would want a lifeguard that could tread for as long as needed.

This reflective process has taught me that we set standards, we prepare our students for what we know they will need, and we implement strategies to help them succeed. But in reality, we can only prepare them for so much. So much more learning must take place through life experiences and outside of class assessment.

At this time in the semester, I see many of the students treading water with their head just above water. I challenge my students to cherish these moments. Let God use these moments to prepare them for the road of life ahead. To one day be the leader that is teaching others. My hope is that these moments they share at this university will help them to dig deeper in their faith. My hope is that God will take the moments and use them to draw closer to him.

My challenge to myself is the same. I am in my own journey of “treading water” and I know God is going to lead me to a deeper place in my faith. He is going to stretch my abilities and give me the ‘required skills needed’ to make a difference.***


Podcast Update

I have been tracking the progress of the students viewing the podcast prior to class. Six out of 16 students are viewing the chapter podcast prior to or after class.  In addition, the same 6 are completing all assignments whereas the other 10 are just not. Conclusions: if students do not turn in assignments, they are also not likely to read, listen to the podcasts, or come prepared to class.

In order to increase in-class participation, I started posting the discussion questions from the podcast/reading materials the day prior to class and individually assigning them to a question. Most everyone in class shows up with the answer for their question. This has helped in-class discussion and has given the more introverted students time to prepare to speak in-front of other students. It has also facilitated deeper discussion when the student are prepared to talk about the topics.

Although this process has not been perfect or easy, the process has provided opportunities for students to be responsible and mature learners. These opportunities are crucial for developing critical thinking in higher education.

In summary, I will continue to provide opportunities that facilitate in-class discussion and develops critical thinking opportunities. Today it may involve a podcast, tomorrow it may involve video conferencing or some other type of teaching method.

-LM

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

 

 

 

Personal refection

 

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Reflecting on this past semester, I have concluded that I am very critical of myself.

I hold myself and my students to a high standard.

Although this might be frustrating at times, at the end of the day, critiquing myself is what has allowed me to make progress. Having others critique me is also helpful.

This year I am apart of a Teaching and Learning group. Part of this process is getting other faculty to observe a class, and then talk about areas of improvement.

So far in this process, I have gained confidence in my teaching methods. I have learned what other people do in their class, and I have had the opportunity to ask the “tough” questions. My peer group is comprised of three co-workers that I admire for one reason or another. They all have different teaching styles, they all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they all have different on-going issues.

This process has been a lifesaver as a newer faculty. It has allowed me to conceptualize my experience in a different way. Drawing from all the experiences of my teaching and learning group, I have been able to learn and grow from getting to know them.

I plan to continue to critique and improve myself as a professor: to learn from others who have more experience or different experiences than myself; to be secure enough in my teaching to not be wavered by one experience, but sensitive enough to know when to change; to be kind to myself throughout the process; and to be reflective enough to enjoy the journey.

I am thankful God has lead me to this profession. I will do my due diligence to be a good steward of the resources and responsibility that has been given to me.

lm

Real Live Prof

In sociology, our “Big 3” theories are Conflict Theory, Functionalism, and Symbolic InteractiBig 3onism. We use each of these as frameworks to analyze “everything.” Sociologists think they have helpful insight about all things, including society, institutions, and global inequality, all the way down to small groups, families, and our interactions with vending machines. Symbolic Interaction itself has a sub-theory called Labeling.

Labeling theory suggests that we receive labels from significant people, including peers, in our lives as we are growing up. They are like giant bumper stickers slapped on our foreheads. Every time we look in the mirror or think about ourselves, or snap a “selfie”, we see the label. I always ask my students to imagine the biggest kid in 2nd grade sitting down at lunch across from the smallest kid in 2nd grade. The small kid’s mom is concerned her boy will not grow up fast enough, and so she packs extra Twinkies in his lunchbox. The biggest kid’s mom is concerned her boy is already too big, so she packs him carrots and celery instead of dessert.

One day, the big kid looks at the little kid and his Twinkies, and says, “I love Twinkies”.

The little kid hears this and fearfully shoves them across the table and tells the big kid, “Here, take mine!”

The big kid takes them and enjoys them. Both kids just got labeled: Bully and Wimp. The big kid soon learns his size and burgeoning reputation can help him get all the Twinkies he could want while the little kid soon understands that he must supply whatever the big kid wants.

Another thing about labels that I always try to include in my lectures is that negative labels stick best. I often ask my students to try and recall some negative label that their parents or teachers gave them. It is amazing how the pain and shame of a careless or mean word uttered by an authoritative person can easily flood back in on us as we so easily remember those words from years and even decades ago. I can tell my daughters every morning how beautiful, sweet and smart they are and it will barely stick. I can say one time in a lifetime that they are ugly, sour or stupid and they will remember those words forever.

The power of a label comes from believing uncritically that the labeler knew what they were talking about. As soon as we do the labeled behavior, we hear the labeler say, “See? I told you that you were_________.” Eventually, we live “down” to their labels and agree with them.

So, imagine my surprise as I went to Senior Chapel last week and was greeted by a person passing out colored markers. He had written negative labels on his arms. As the program began, I was amazed to hear person after person talk about their labels that had been stuck on them: porn addict, drug abuser, judgmental, masturbator, etc. As they talked about their labels, a common thread began to emerge. They said that only as they confronted the labels and their own sin and asked God for healing, forgiveness and recovery, did the labels begin to come off. This is the key point I always make with my Loser Selfieclasses: the only way labels ever come off is with the grace of God. It is the very rare person who takes the negative label as a challenge and says to their critic, “You think I am loser? I will show you and become a winner!” 

As we were entering chapel, we were offered pens as a way to remind us to get real, honest and even transparent with each other about our labels. I happened to be sitting by two students during the Senior Chapel and when they heard we should write labels on ourselves, they got excited. They offered to write labels on me…ouch!

Thankful

When you ask a professor to reflect on and blog about her experiences in the classroom, expect there to be a bunch of grousing about students’Bashaw laziness and lack of commitment, and some lamenting about the moral decline of civilization, as seen in the youth of America.

And maybe I have done a fair amount of complaining as I have pondered the intersection of faith, teaching, students, and society this semester.

However, as I reflect on my job as an educator-counselor-learner-mentor-pastor-motivational speaker, there is much more for which I am thankful.

  • I am thankful that God has allowed me to work in a career that demands constant learning, that challenges me to get better and know more every day;
  • I am thankful for the privilege and challenge of teaching the Bible, in its messiness and glory, and for the opportunity to communicate my love for Scripture with my students.
  • I am thankful for daily deadlines (and I also curse this!), that I must keep on top of things and strive for excellence not just for my own improvement but for the education of others.
  • I am thankful for the constant interaction with young people, which forces me to learn how to tweet, compels me to learn new colloquialisms (that’s ill!), and keeps me in touch with the challenges and contributions of this up-and-coming generation.
  • I am thankful for flexibility of my classroom, that my teaching need not fit into a rubric or someone else’s expectation. I can lecture or use pod casts or facilitate discussion or show youtube clips or encourage journaling or sing songs or have confession time, depending on what best communicates a particular subject to my students at a particular time.
  • I am thankful for the teamwork involved in a university setting, that professors and administrators and maintenance crew and IT and cafeteria workers and student workers and resident directors all work together for one noble goal–to provide the best education for our students.
  • And I am thankful for my students: students who are trusting enough to listen and learn, who are brave enough to show vulnerability in the classroom, who are caring enough to support their peers in their needs, who are committed enough to be leaders even in their young age, who are strong enough to overcome all the challenges they face in their personal and private lives in order to remain committed to education and to their faith in the midst of a distracting, discouraging, sometimes dream-crushing world.

For all these things, and all these people, I am truly thankful.

jgb

Collegiality

// Collegiality:

the cooperative relationship of colleagues

One of the best lessons I have learned through this reflection process is to learn from others. Other professors in my department and outside of my department have extended wisdom, and support at times when I needed it.

I used to think that I encountered “unique” issues and situations. I have learned through this reflection experience that we can learn a lot from talking to each other.

It is not weakness to seek others for advice… it is wise to seek those who have the experience and knowledge.

This past week I was approached by a student about a moral/ethical question. I gave her advice, but I could see that it was difficult for her to take the advice because of her current life experiences (don’t worry it wasn’t anything bad or life threatening… it was minor and won’t really make a difference one way or another).  But, the best thing about this encounter is that I saw myself in her. I saw that sometimes I ask advice from more experienced faculty, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding that advice.

I grew a lot from this encounter. It showed me that I can learn a lot from others if I just take the time to understand that my colleagues have that advice to offer. I understand that I am in my own growth process as a professor and that it may be at a different place than other people. AND that’s okay…

I can see myself maturing as a person and as a professional. I don’t do things the same way I did my first year of teaching. In five years, I probably won’t teach the same way I am teaching now. There is nothing wrong with what I am doing now but I hope to learn and to grow.

I am grateful that I am surrounded by co-workers that work together. I hope to continue to grow from using a collaborative approach to evaluate my actions a professor. I plan to be that peer or mentor support to future faculty.

We are stronger when we work together and when we learn from each other.

lm

 

The Fear Factor

I went to an academic conference over the summer.  Several of the speakers zeroed in on an area of research that is finally getting some traction.  The question they addressed concerned student success in college.  One survey, taken at the Community College of Baltimore, discovered two primary reasons students drop out of school—They are overwhelmed by life problems.  Or they are overwhelmed by affective issues, mostly centered around “fear, anxiety, and a suspicion that they are just not college material.”

In other words, ability is usually not the problem.  Life is. The fear factor is.

So, how do we help these students?  The suggestions given are common-sense ones—“Create a safe atmosphere” in the classroom.  Find a balance between “flexibility” and “tough love”—between “compassion” and “firmness” (a lot harder than it might sound).  Implement “confidence-building experiences” early on in the semester.

And be aware of mindsets—because students will have “fixed mindsets” or “growth mindsets.”

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that a fixed mindset is “the belief that intelligence is fixed [which] dampens students’ motivation to learn, makes them afraid of effort, and makes them want to quit after a setback.”

So when classes get hard, students give up.  Because when they struggle, Dweck says, they “feel dumb.”

Do I have students who have this mindset?  Of course.  But my confession is this: Sometimes I have the same mindset.

I fear failure.  And in my profession, where performance is evaluated and measured each semester, I often feel like I’m not measuring up.  And when I struggle, I feel dumb.  This doesn’t motivate me to be better.  It discourages me and makes me want to give up.

I guess the question is this: How do we establish growth mindsets?  How do we establish the belief that just because something is challenging and causes us to struggle, this is not a reflection of our intelligence or ability?

I’m pretty sure that most of the speakers at the conference did not embrace a Christian world view.  If there is such a thing as grace, I learned, it is merely a human grace we extend to each other.  And as teachers, we know the expectations of gracious teaching.  Help students to realize their potential and to be true to themselves.   Encourage.  Uplift.  Reinforce.  Reaffirm.  We do this because we care about them.  But we do this too because we care about retention, and we must always be looking for ways to keep students from dropping out.

But is this all there is to teaching?  Just getting students to finish college and get jobs so we not only identify them as successful but ourselves, as well?

I worry a lot about leaving God out of this equation.

Do I care for my students? Yes.  Do I want them to graduate?  Yes.  Do I want them to get good jobs?  Yes.  But. . . .

If this is all we are about as educators, we only address part of the need.  Because each one of us has a soul.  And souls don’t have expiration dates, like milk.  We will all live forever.

I take education seriously.  But I take eternity much more seriously.

I admit to my students that college is a big thing.  But it is not the whole thing.  God has opened this door of opportunity for you, I tell them, so seize it.  Work hard and be successful, not to bring honor to yourself, but to bring glory to God.

And when they get scared.  When they start to struggle.  When the challenges seem insurmountable.  I remind them that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength.  Trust Him, I say.  Lean on Him.  Because He is real and He is relevant.

I work hard in the classroom.  I take the material seriously.  But I am also serious about modeling a life that glorifies God, the author of grace.  If they don’t see that life in me, I have failed.  Measure me all you want.  Evaluate me all you want.  But I have a greater judge.  And when I stand before Him, I hope I hear these words—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want that for me. I want that for you.  I want that for my students.  Because that is true success.  

SC