The faith that teaching requires

Amidst the eros for metrics in higher education, it is easy to lose focus on what is at heart an act of faith on the part of the teacher: expending much energy and effort to try to reach the soul of the student. Our work is never solely communication of information and knowledge: books and (duh) the internet make this possible quite without our intervention. The text is really only the pre-text: what we do is use a subject in order to open up a student’s mind and see the world a little differently.

When we do it well–whether our material is fluid dynamics, Heidegger’s philosophy, nuclear chemistry, the French revolution, family systems theory, quantum mechanics, 19th century British poetry, or the prima secundae of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica–we open ourselves and our students to questions which, as long as we do not short-circuit the conversation, are where we encounter what theologians mean when we use the word “God.”

You can measure some things on tests. You can use those scores for some limited purposes. But what you simply cannot measure is the way that a relationship with a teacher lights up a student’s imagination, helps her understand herself anew, and motivates her to live into that new imagination of who she really is. The fruits of that relationship may not be evident for years, until that student looks backwards and asks, how did all this juice and all this joy take flight? And she will remember a class, and a teacher, and will lament the fact that he was let go because of producing insufficient grant monies for the department.

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