First day of class
It's been a long time since I experienced first-day-of-class jitters, but that familiar human feeling came back in full on Monday evening and yesterday morning as I taught my first two classes here at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.
Writing a syllabus would be the first test of my new pedagogical performance. For all you who need translation (like me), a syllabus is an outline of class assignments and expectations; syllabi is its plural. At the faculty meeting last Thursday, as we shared our syllabi with each other, I was quickly reminded of just how long I had been absent from the peculiar and insular language of academia.
My collegues produced gorgeous, detailed, exhaustive documents that addressed every conceivable question students might have about what was required of them. Mine, by comparison, were pathetic. They looked emaciated next to the fleshy outlines of the other faculty members. But, my fellow teachers endured my amateurism, and patiently provided the necessary feedback for me to produce adequate syllabi.
Sandlot meets big-league.
Actually, the exercise brought to mind Jesus' instruction to his disciples to "let your yeas be yeas and your nays be nays," as the memorable King James puts it. In relationships, particularly new ones, precision in speech is important. Students need a clarity of requirements and expectations-- not fuzzy suggestions.
My old teacher, Wayne Oates, used to stress the essential relational component of "clear covenants, faithfully kept." As I told my students when distributing the syllabus, there is nothing "innerrant" about the document, and it will surely be flexibly interpreted, but the clearer map of our coming journey will make us better co-travellers.
And what impressive co-travellers these students are! They are bright, inquisitive, eager, commmitted. They are already incarnating their theological studies in real Christian service in a variety of ministry positions. Maybe the following observation is simply a function of my aging, but they seem more focused than me and my crew of seminarians 25 years ago. (I suspect my contemporaries will call that a classic case of psychological projection!)
There is a diversity of race and gender and generation among the students which greatly enriches our learning experience. African-Americans are significantly--not nominally-- represented; many are working pastors and preachers already, furthering their theological education for more effective Christian ministry. Younger students in their 20's and 30's learn alongside older students in their 40's and 50's, forming a community of mutual exploration and inquiry. Fully half of the students are women, illustrating that the Pentecostal prophecy of Peter 2000 years ago is now fulfilled before our very eyes (Acts 2.18).
They inspire. After being with them the first day of class, I am stoked.