Here at ESN, we’ve found that some of our most appreciated posts share practical tips on learning various academic skills that emerging scholars can use to serve God and their neighbors. Teaching is a key way to serve students and love our neighbors by sharing knowledge, and it’s also something many emerging scholars are learning how to do. So in Spring 2017, we started a series sharing Teaching Tips from people in our network. We hope readers will get some good ideas from each other, and also get a glimpse into how Christian scholars in a wide variety of settings exercise the creativity and knowledge God has given them to serve their students. We’re happy to continue the series this fall. Drawing on years of teaching experience in many different settings, Chelsea Cutting-Foster shares practical tips on building a great college classroom environment where students can flourish practically and spiritually. Chelsea has also written a Scholar’s Compass devotional reflection and interviewed Soo Chuen Tan for the ESN blog. Also stay tuned for a Time Management Tips series starting soon.
Letter from a PREACHER (a praying teacher) . . .
For more than twenty years, I have enjoyed teaching a variety of ages and stages from pre-school to college. I have found that each level is unique and has given me a different perspective on my role as an educator. Pre-K to 4th grade classes are high energy and transitions between activities need to occur very quickly and frequently. Students in grades 5 to 8 tend to move at a slower pace and need more time to process the increasingly more complex information. High school students in grades 9 to 12 are able to transition faster, but they still need a lot of direct instruction and modeling. It takes a longer time to build trusting connections with high school students and to learn how to best communicate with them individually and as a class.
Personally, I have found the college atmosphere to be more socially relaxing and academically intense than K-12 education. College students have different maturity levels, academic abilities and extenuating life circumstances. Regardless, there are some consistent practices that I have gleaned from several colleagues and have found beneficial throughout my own experiences.
Practical points . . .
- Set the atmosphere. Make sure the classroom is neat and organized. Little extras like content related or relaxing music, lighting, and visuals help students to focus their minds and attention.
- Model respect. Encourage learners to respect you and each other by inviting them to listen to others, speak in turn, and respond thoughtfully to others’ comments. Acknowledge the strengths and abilities of each student. Many feel that they are respected when they have something of value to contribute.
- Be prepared. Plan your lessons carefully with clear due dates and expectations so that there is little confusion. I create a one page course rubric with points and due dates in addition to a rubric for major assignments.
- Deal with distractions immediately with calmness and grace. When learners are disruptive, move closer to them or invite them to participate or respond to the lesson.
- Allow students to participate and take leadership in class. They want to feel a sense of responsibility for their learning. Encourage them to ask questions, and have reflective discussions.
Spiritually speaking, here are some ideas. Adjust as appropriate for your context, whether a Christian or secular educational setting . . .
- Pray for your students. As soon as you have access to your class list, lift each name up in prayer.
- Pray with your students. Open each class with a prayer and give the students the chance to lead. Also, give students the opportunity to share prayer requests spoken or written on index cards.
- Acknowledge the power of trusting the Holy Spirit to lead them into truth and righteousness. Because of the trials and joys they will experience in the learning process, they need to understand the gospel and how to receive guidance from the Word.
- Share the relevance and the application of the gospel as they grow and mature intellectually. Incorporate gospel principles into your teaching. The Bible is not just a separate book to include in the curriculum. It can be used to help students in analyzing content matter and frame their perspective of the relevance of the course to real world situations.
- Model the language of grace. Choose your words carefully and invite students to seek out new ways to communicate what is good, perfect and acceptable as a child of God.
Above all, know that ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN! This is the current mantra in education that truly has roots in biblical theology. Isaiah 54:13 (NIV). It’s true for young adults in college as well as younger students.
All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace. — Isaiah 54:13
It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. — John 6:45 (NIV)
Take this perspective with you as you teach to the benefit of future generations, including those yet to be born.
Go forth and teach with care!