January 27, 2014

Making Mistakes

It is week 4 of my 15-week class on the American Short Story at GCU. I am starting the second-half of the module on Romanticism today. I am hopeful that this week will prove better than the last. I don't think I have been a super teacher, thus far. In fact, I would say that I have been average, at the least, that is what my students tell me about their experiences. I am interested in student motivation, and what they think, for certain. I am feeling convicted and as though I have been run through the vine press. I think it is normal for new teachers. I think it is what every teacher experiences -- that first moment when the bloom has fallen from the bush. You know -- the moment when your students see you as human, flawed, failed.

This happened to me last week. I walked into class ill-prepared for the lesson (well, not really). I had spent quite a bit of time preparing, but I changed my mind an hour before class, and re-made my presentation. I felt it was better to do it differently, and in the end, I make an error in judgment, which proved to be my undoing. Oh well -- live and learn. Note to self - don't remake your PPTs the day of class.

I think week 3 ended with a crash simply because I could no longer hold onto my expectations. I had such high hopes and visions for teaching success. I wanted to be the best teacher I could be, better than some of the teachers I student-taught with the previous semester. Yes, I knew that I had little experience (they all had 10 plus years) in the classroom, but some how I thought I could do a better job than they had done. In hindsight, I realized that I am not in competition with these other educators because we are all uniquely gifted teachers -- gifted in special ways. I am not good at certain things, and they are not good at certain things. Yet, we can both function in this one area, one discipline and make an impact on our student's success.

I suffered the entire weekend with feelings of guilt. Oh my, talk about the feelings of guilt. Why? Because I mispronounced one of the stories we are going to read this week. I wrote it out wrong on the homework list (really mangled it), and I said it wrong in class. Double-strike! Yes, I blew it big time and now my students no longer see me as perfect. I toppled off my pedestal by my own hand. I knocked myself off and fell to the ground. Ouch!

I guess if you are going to be toppled, it is a far better thing to do it to yourself than to wait and have someone else do it. Is that called personal humiliation? Self-humilation? Yes, this is what happened to me. I was humiliated by my own hand.

Get over it, already!

Yes, I woke up at 4:45 this morning. I just woke up. It was weird, really. I had been sleeping soundly, very soundly, and then I rolled over and woke up. I thought, "Oh, this is not good." I mean, I can sleep in, but today for some reason, I just woke up.

So here I sit at the computer, drinking my coffee, thinking about the day, and why I became a teacher. In fact, I googled teacher websites to see if I could get a better idea of my purpose, why I am teaching, and what I hope to accomplish as a teacher. It was a good exercise because I think the grist of all this mess has been a misplaced identity, and a mismatched purpose statement.

Misplaced Identity

Identity is defined as the distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality.

I consider identity to be who I am, the real me, the person who exists on the inside of the shell of humanity. It is the miraculous goo that is encased in the outward appearance of the self. It is me, my soul, my unique personality. It is who God created me to be, and it is the one with whom I identify as me.

Identification means the acceptance as one's own of the values and interests of a social group.

I identify with certain values and interests in the shared-ness of collective humanity. I am human. I am a created "thing" and as such, I find value in shared items and interests that other "created things" share. In short, I identify myself as being wholly individual and wholly collective.

I am both an individual and a part of the human collective. I am identified as such at the very base level of understanding. Personally, I am known to my family as Carol (a sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, mom, etc.). Collectively, I am known as a part of the human race (female, white, anglo-saxon, American, etc.)

However, as basic as these definitions are, there are other identifications that mark me as unique. One of these identifications is my job preference. In this day and age, we are known by our profession or our title. For some this is a professional title such as Dr. For some this is a more personal title such as Mr. or Mrs. 

Our careers identify us and tell others important details about our personality and/or qualifications. As a teacher, I am expected to be qualified to teach (to hold a valid teacher's license or to possess advanced education, e.g. degrees). I happen to have an advanced degree, a Masters degree, and therefore, this qualifies me to teach college students. Yet, just because I have an advanced degree, I still may not know anything about my subject area. I am expected therefore to also be a subject matter expert in the area of teaching speciality. This is considered important criteria when hiring instructors for teaching positions. In my view, being a teacher has certain connotations and being certified has other. Moreover, being a SME also has certain expectations associated with it.

I think my issue this past week (week's) has been my perception of my abilities and my feelings of inadequacy in teaching this subject area. I have felt out of place, not qualified, and unprepared to teach students literature. Why? Because I believed that I wasn't good enough, didn't know enough, and wasn't ready to teach this level of study.

Yet, according to my understanding I possess the required skill to teach college literature classes:

  1. I hold an advanced degree in the subject area
  2. I have some experience (limited) in the classroom
So if I do have the requisite qualifications, then why have I struggled with identification and purpose?

I think it is because of a misplaced understanding of who I am and what I am called to do.

Mismatched Purpose Statement

I googled for purpose statements in regard to teaching this morning. I already had a teaching philosophy in mind, and I had thought about that statement off and on since I started at Regent. One of the things every Regent professor does is write a philosophy statement for their syllabus. It is really nice, and it tells the student a little bit about the motivation and purpose of their instructor. One of my professors always includes this as his scripture of reference:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,3 a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15

I like this idea because I think it helps to remind the student and the teacher of two key points: their identity (in Christ), and their purpose (according to their calling).

I made this mistake, and it is the reason why I have suffered so much these past three weeks. I got my identity and my purpose confused and as a result I floundered in the classroom. Let me explain...

I know myself well. I know my capabilities and my skills. I am on point, zeroed in, and I know what I can and cannot do well. I tend to stick with what I do well because I like to succeed and I don't like to fail (whenever possible). My identity is firmly rooted in my experience, and in my abilities. I am good at certain things, and I know how to do a lot of things with precision and technical proficiency.

However, my identity is no longer grounded in human secularism. Meaning that I am no longer working to prove myself to this world nor am I defined by any characteristic of it. I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. I have been born again, and my life was purchased by His blood. Therefore, I am no longer working to serve man, but rather, I am working to serve God (PTL).

My profession has changed as well. I am not identified by my occupation, my profession. In fact, my profession is not even a factor in my day-to-day living. I am a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a servant of the Lord. This is my role, this is who I am and what I do every single day of my life.

I do work professionally. I am a teacher now. I was an analyst. Before that I was a website designer. I was also a Mom, a wife, an AWANA teacher, and a home educator. I have worn many hats, many hats. Today, I am a teacher, a college instructor. Tomorrow, I hope to be a Professor.

My work and my identity are two very different things. While I work at teaching, I live to serve God. Therefore my purpose is wrapped up in my service to God, and not in what I do each day to bring home a paycheck. I teach because I can and because God has opened a door of opportunity for me to do so. But, I live to serve Him, to worship Him, and to adore Him. He is my center, He is my focus, and He is everything to me.

I lost that purpose in all the hub-bub of becoming an instructor at GCU. I lost my focus and I became obsessed with being a good teacher, being approved as a good teacher. It took a tumble off that self-made pedestal to get me to understand what I had done to myself, and to accept the fate of humiliation. I don't like to be humiliated, and I know that others don't like it either. It is uncomfortable for me, and I avoid it like the plague. Yet, there is value in learning humility. It helps us to remember why we are doing certain things, and it can keep us focused on the right goal, the end goal, the purpose-driven life.

Today was a wake-up call for me. It was a reminder that I am not called to teach. I am teaching because God gave me an opportunity to do so. I am called to build up the church, to train ministry leaders in how to use communication to help the church understand the emergent 21st century culture. I am called to ministry to be an effective worker and it use my gifts and talents for His kingdom, and not my own. This is my purpose, this is why I am doing what I am doing, and this is where I am going.

My Teaching Statement then has to reflect my call by God and my professional approach -- but it doesn't define me, per se. It is more a reflection of my style when it comes to teaching, how I do it, why I do it, and how I think I can contribute to a spirit of learning in the classroom. This is my attempt at a teaching statement:

My goal in teaching is to help students understand that their opinions matter and that they have a voice. They can use their voice to argue, to persuade, and to create conversation. I don't want them to think I know everything or that I have all the answers, because I don't. I consider myself an advanced learner, someone who is still learning, still processing, still coming to terms with new information. I am more skilled than they are, I have more years of experience, and I know where to find things -- in short -- I am better equipped to facilitate learning, to engage them in dialogue, and to help them figure things out. In short, I can teach them through my life experience, my knowledge-base, and my desire to learn. I cannot make them learn. I cannot motivate them to learn. I can hope that they will choose to learn, but I cannot do anything in the class or outside of the class to make them actually learn. Learning is their responsibility, it is their role. My role is to guide and mentor them, to teach them ways to engage the material, to think and dig deeper. Ultimately, they will learn what they choose to learn. My success or failure in the classroom has nothing to do with my abilities to distill information, but rather it has everything to do with their willingness to engage in conversation about the subject we are studying.

As I consider my role as mentor and guide, I am reminded that we are called in scripture to make disciples of all nations. We are to mentor/disciple each other, to build each other up. As such, I am doing this through teaching literature. Yes, I am teaching short story and analysis and criticism. But I am also mentoring and discipling young students, potential new teachers, and those who don't know what God has called them to do. I am the master and they are the student -- but not of literature -- no, of life, of learning, and of listening to the still small voice that resides within them.

I guide them, I teach them, I train them, I help them. I make mistakes. I goof up, and I stumble over my words. Yes, I do all of the above -- in season and out of season. I do my best, and I trust God for the rest. He is the approver of all that I do and while I may feel ashamed at times when I stumble, God is there to pick me up and help me learn from my mistakes. I am to do the same thing for my students. I am to help them learn from their mistakes, and improve, and grow, and develop into mature Godly men and women.

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