Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Teaching Who We Are

Photo via Dordt College. All rights reserved.
Facebook told me that it was eight years ago yesterday that I graduated with my Master of Education degree. That was an important personal and professional accomplishment! I learned so much about myself as a teacher through the coursework and research that was behind that degree; the professors I worked with helped me to review, rethink, ...and perhaps even redeem my teaching practice. I am the teacher I am today thanks to their work with me.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Doing What Is Best, and Not What Is Easy

Saw this gem on Twitter today...


I am thinking about the teachers that just graduated from our program last week. I am grateful for the chance to work with them, to have deep conversations about what good teaching is all about, to mentor them. But I am also worried for them.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hearing and Doing

Today is, apparently, Soren Kierkegaard's 203rd birthday. (Relevant Magazine told me so.) Perhaps not as quotable as the inestimable C. S. Lewis from a century later, but Kierkegaard has some zingers too.

Here's the one that struck me today:
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.
― Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard
Ouch.

That hits a little close to home. I know I've said things like this before. Perhaps you have too?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Grad School: I'm Headed to Fairbanks

Time for a brief grad school update.

I have submitted my final papers for this semester, and I have achieved a landmark: I am finished with my coursework!

This semester I was taking a research elective (Design-Based Research, which was absolutely fascinating and helpful for my current and future research agenda) and conducting an "innovative experience" (basically an internship intended to help me synthesize the things I've learned in my coursework and begin applying it to a real-world problem in a way that "stretches" me.) Both were excellent learning adventures, but I feel drained--I am definitely at "the end" of this semester, limping my way to the finish line. I think it is because I kicked off this semester with comprehensive exams, which meant a ton of extra reading and preparation during Christmas break (normally a respite from the hectic, 60-hour+ per week schedule of the semester.) Honestly, I am tired...really, really tired.

But despite this fatigue, I feel great, submitting those last papers from this semester!

For my innovative experience, my final paper was a reflection on the things I had done and learned, and when I submitted it to my advisor and our program director, I shared my joy at reaching this point.

In response, one of my professors encouraged me to think of it this way:
The drive from NYC to Seattle is about 2,800 miles. To get to Fairbanks, AK, it's another 2,300 miles. When you've completed coursework for the program ... you're in Seattle. But ... you need to get to Fairbanks. ;-)

Truly, I'm grateful for this encouragement. I have said to a few people that I am now "ABD" (All But Dissertation.) One fellow academic commented to me that I should never say that; ABD is often used to indicate folks who got to this point where I find myself...and then stall out, not completing the degree.

I needed that encouragement too. I am NOT going to end up at "ABD" status. I'm proud of the work I've completed so far, and by the grace of God I'll see this journey through to the end. It's been quite a trip so far; I've enjoyed it thoroughly, but I am not at the end.

So I'm taking a rest stop in Seattle for a few days here...but I'm headed to Fairbanks.

Image by J. Stephen Conn [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Friday, April 29, 2016

On Teaching "Christianly"

It is the end of the semester, and I have students beginning the review process for their final exams. In Intro to Education, this means reflecting on all that they have read and discussed and studied in light of our essential question for the course: "What does it mean to teach 'Christianly?'"

This is a novel concept for some students. Most all of my students would self-identify as Christians, and most all of them are planning on becoming teachers. So they might well wonder, "Why does Mulder make such a big deal about this 'teaching Christianly' stuff?" And I do make a big deal about it in class. While I don't specifically ask that question each week when we meet up, I allude to it often, and I strive to both challenge their thinking through the things we read and discuss as well as model a distinctively Christian approach to teaching when they see me at work in class.

Welcome to Intro to Ed. Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

I don't do this perfectly, of course. I'm still figuring out how to teach Christianly myself. I've been thinking about this for some time now, and I even shared my thoughts about teaching (and living) "Christianly" on inallthings.org this spring. But I am far enough down this path that I am convinced this is the right way to work out my own discipleship within my teaching practice, and I am trying to demonstrate it for my students.

Sometimes I think they are even starting to "get it." :-)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Importance of Modeling

Some days, I know that teaching is for me. And I had one of those days recently.

In a recent post, I was wondering about the nature of teaching, and whether teachers are actually "teaching" if their students aren't learning. I sometimes doubt my own efficacy as a professor--am I really cut out for this work? What really qualifies me to teach someone else how to teach? Am I really that effective at this business?

And then I have a moment where I see things coming together...

I have been visiting student teachers throughout this semester, and I have been so proud of my students--seeing them putting into practice the things they have learned throughout their work in our teacher preparation program is gratifying to say the least!

But recently I had an almost surreal experience on a visit one of my student teachers. She was particularly eager to have me visit for this lesson--it was a science lesson. I teach the science methods course for elementary and middle school majors, so she was right: I am always excited to see student teachers leading a science learning opportunity.

The lesson? Part of a unit she was teaching about states of matter. The third graders had already learned about solids, liquids, and gases, and how it's possible to change from one state of matter to another, and what makes these different states function as they do. And today's lesson was a chance for them to check and extend their understanding.

My student teacher began by asking questions of the students, helping them review the characteristics of the different states of matter. I was so proud already at this introduction; in science methods I had emphasized the importance of asking a variety of different kinds of questions--some basic, recall questions, but also higher-order thinking questions--and here she was, using all sorts of questions to engage her students and help conduct them in to the lesson of the day.

And then: a Magic Question...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I have Questions...and Ideas...

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Q Ideas conference in Denver. "Q" is for "questions"...and the conference was about fostering conversation around those questions. The fundamental question, I think, after attending is this: "What does it mean to be the Church in contemporary culture?"

We convened at the Paramount Theater.
Great venue!
This conference was unlike any other I have ever attended. The best way to describe it is TED Talks for evangelicals. The conference arranged for many different voices on contemporary issues facing the church, and the presenters spoke from their expertise and passions, giving 9 or 18 minute talks, followed by some discussion times. Presenters shared about diverse issues, from race relations, to legalization of marijuana, to transgender issues, to understanding calling, to Christian-Muslim relations, to artificial intelligence, to medical aid in dying, to gun control, to the current political climate in the United States. (And there were many more topics as well!)