May my teaching drop as the rain,
my speech distill as the dew,
like gentle rain upon the tender grass,
and like showers upon the herb.
So, another year starts tomorrow, officially. (Note to those of you with real jobs: we teachers think in academic years; I'm well aware that this calendar year started 8 months ago. Which, of course, was right in the middle of last year. *grin*)
Actually, this new year started this past week, with department & university faculty meetings & syllabus deadlines & new employee orientation & student move-in & such. But tomorrow morning at 0800, it's officially on in terms of classes & teaching & such. (WCU's medical school students started a couple of weeks ago; everyone else starts tomorrow)
The verse above is one of my favorite verses on teaching in all of Scripture. It's actually in a section called "The Song of Moses," in which Moses is reminding Israel of their history & of their transgressions. I have it on a small poster right outside my office. Every single time I read it, I'm reminded of those whose teaching "dropped...like gentle rain upon the tender grass" that is Mike Madaris back in the day. Which also reminds me that my own teaching can be harsh & unforgiving, or inspiring & encouraging. My subjects--Finance & Economics--are already challenging; I don't have to become a jerk in order to make them so. Of course, it is also quite possible to err in the other direction by being so generous in teaching & testing & grading that nobody is challenged at all, and therefore doesn't really learn anything. That would be preparing my students for a world that doesn't exist!
Which leads to another of my favorite teaching passages:
...so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...
I realize the context there is in specific reference to God's gracious giving of spiritual gifts for building up the church into spiritual maturity. But I don't think I'm doing violence to the text by applying it to my teaching & grading. My students need to know that in the classroom--as in life!--performance matters. (Or should matter.)
One of the great things that several professors at the University of Florida did for me is...give me Ds & Fs, which accurately reflected my performance in their classes. They would've done me a great injustice to have given me As & Bs simply for registering for class & then showing up every now & then with no effort otherwise. Certainly I didn't realize what a great thing they were doing for me at the time...but I'm thankful now that they gave me real grades that really reflected what I had(n't) done in class. Balancing truth & love is not easy, and I rarely get it completely correct; but tomorrow presents another term for me to aim at getting it correct.
New beginnings always lead me back to one of my favorite verses about anything (not just teaching!) in the Bible:
Teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Moses said that. Psalm 90 in my Bible is titled "The Prayer of Moses, The Man of God." Great title! The whole of Psalm 90 is just incredible, btw. And in context, this verse follows an awesome (in the true sense) discussion about the wrath of God, along with the brevity of human life. Which, to me, adds "oomph" to the verse. I asked a group of entering freshmen yesterday, "have you ever met a clueless old person?" (Obvious answer: yes!) Then I asked, "Do you want to wind up a clueless old person yourself?" (Obvious answer: no!) So then, let's all be wise stewards of our days. For truly, there are not very many of them, when all is said & done!
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
WCU's theme for the year is "Transformed...by the renewing of your mind." Which is from Romans 12:2, another favorite verse of mine. In context: Paul has just finished 11 chapters of some of the heaviest, deepest doctrinal discussion in the Bible. Then, 12:1: "Therefore, do not be conformed to this world...but be transformed..." followed by 5 chapters of unpacking what "Therefore" looks like in application.
I teach Finance & Economics, & not theology. However, part of God's providential provision & leading in the lives of a batch of students for the next 10 weeks is that they sit under Dr. Madaris' teaching. Thus, my teaching is part of God's plan for their lives. Perhaps just to test their faith & discipline (*grin*)...or perhaps to show them they can handle difficult material after all...or perhaps to help them understand a bit of how the world works in reality. Regardless, their goal is to have their minds transformed, and it is a GREAT honor to be part of that process!
Which leads to my last verse I'll quote:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity...
1 Timothy 4:12
It's popular--mostly because it's so easy, and because us older people are so lazy--to take cheap shots at today's young folks. I *STRONGLY* reject that whole line of thinking. In fact, I personally take great hope in the future, precisely because I'm around some outstanding young men & women all the time. This generation of college students wants to impact the world, and they are quite serious about it! They want to end things like slavery (aside: there are more slaves in the world TODAY than EVER BEFORE...which begs the question, "How'd we baby boomers do @ ending slavery?" *nervous clearing of throat*), poverty, racism,...I love that about them. They inspire me greatly in so many ways. Plus, dadburn it, it's just a lot of fun to hang w/ college students! (Sure, there are some who are, to be kind, not very inspiring...let's call them the "Mike-Madaris-in-college" students. *smile* But they stand out these days precisely because they're so listless.)
So, to all young students: hear the words of Paul to his young apprentice Timothy, who was approximately your age. "Let no one despise you for your youth, but show yourself an example..." People WILL despise you for your youth; show yourself an example anyway! Hard? You bet! The world is full of crusty old people who have forgotten some things: (1) what it's like to be young, (2) what it's like to have hope & optimism, (3) **almost every single significant movement throughout history that has shaped & changed our world has been led mostly by young people** So, go show yourself an example!
But starting this week, "showing yourself an example' begins by coming to class. *grin*
I love my job & can't wait to get into the new term. Tomorrow night, Lisa & I will be at the WCU coffee shop on campus for something called "coffee talk." As near as I can figure, we're discussing some things about life as a student @ WCU with a group of entering students. And soon, we're hoping to re-boot our small group in our home of students from other countries to bat around things slightly more significant than how to calculate the present value of an annuity or the marginal cost of producing the 500,000th widget or what "CAMEL" means to a banker. (hint: has nothing to do with the animal!)
I love my job. It's a new year. Let's get after it!