Thursday, December 14, 2017

Learning to Teach Again: Ending Well

It's been an exciting challenge for me to teach this Geography course for the first time this semester. My students have been fantastic, honestly. As I was welcoming them into our last class meeting today, I was handing out candy canes to wish them a Merry Christmas--a small token of my gratitude for their willingness to play along with all of my "crazy ideas" throughout the semester.

(Funny: a colleague who has also taught many of the same students paused at the door, seeing me with the candy canes. She looked in at the group of students who were getting settled for class, and said something like, "Wow, this is an amazing group of students!" So it's not just my bias here, right? She has taught them too, and can vouch for the fantastic-ness of this crew.)

Last-day-of-class group selfie, of course! 

It's been a joyful challenge teaching this course. I hold myself to a pretty high standard in my teaching practice. I'm to the point where I can admit that I'm good at this--not out of any arrogance!--because I feel that I'm fulfilling my calling, and using the gifts and talents with which I've been blessed for the encouragement and edification of my students. But, it was my first go-round with this course, and I know it can get better.

So we ended our semester together with some time of shared reflection. What went well? What went less well? I put my course goals--cribbed directly from the front page of my syllabus document--up on screen, and I asked them to take some time to think out loud in small groups: which ones did we really get? Which ones did we hit weakly...or miss completely?

After some small-group conversation, we moved to whole class sharing. Thankfully, as we discussed it, there weren't any gross misses...but there were a few weak hits. I have room to grow. We all do, I think.

I had a summing up lesson for them. We spent some time reviewing the major power players on the global stage today: the USA (duh...), "Team West" (the EU, Australia, Japan, and Turkey--most of the time--with Uncle Sam often leading the way), the resurgent Russian Bear, the so-hot-its-smoking! Chinese Dragon, and the economically-mobilizing, democracy-loving, population-exploding India. We reviewed an alphabet soup of international and supranational economic and military organizations: EU, UN, NATO, SCO, ASEAN, and considered power blocs for the coming decades. I challenged them to think about what we've learned about American ascendency, and the uni-polar superpower that the USA has been for the past few decades...and how that might change as these other countries and entities of note continue to develop as power centers.

But the whole point of the course, in the end, is summed up in the title: World Regional Geography: Peace and Justice on the International Stage. I pointed this out to them one last time, and I said that I hope that Micah 6:8 would keep ringing in their ears and their hearts after the class concludes:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.
~ Micah 6:8 ~

And so, I wanted to end our formal learning in class with a blessing for them. A colleague who had formerly taught the course shared a good one with me. I did a little looking online for a source, and found it many places--too many to source it properly (so if it belongs to you, please let me know, so I can give proper credit where credit is due.) As best I can tell, it is a Benedictine blessing. Here's what I shared with my students:

I feel like we were able to end well. And that's a big deal for me! I think the first day of class sets a tone in so many ways for how the course will unfold. But I think the last day of class gives the opportunity to end things well, by encapsulating learning and catapulting students into the next stage of their learning--even though the formal learning from this class might be over.

It was a blessing to work with these students this semester. I hope that that the things we did, and read, and discussed, and wrestled through will affect them, that they will have a renewed appreciation for what it means to love their neighbor as they love themselves, whether that neighbor is a friend, an enemy, or someone they don't even know on the other side of the world! I hope that they will live as Micah 6:8 people, seeking to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. And I do hope that this four-fold Benedictine blessing of discomfort, anger, tears, and foolishness carries with them long after they have completed their final exam for the course.

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