The pleasures and pains of teaching

Many people have asked me how the transition has gone from teaching theology and apologetics in seminary to teaching undergraduate pastoral theology in my new job at Lancaster Bible College. My answer: Everything about the new job has been beyond my expectations, and for that I am like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. But when you ask about teaching, I have to say that it’s so much fun, I feel guilty for taking a paycheck. Teaching has always been that way for me. Usually a thrill, sometimes excruciating, but never dull.

I read something today that captures the highs and lows of teaching. I can give a hearty “amen” to this statement by Parker Palmer in his excellent book, The Courage to Teach (Jossey-Bass, 2007)He captures very vividly the feelings of so many teachers.

I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind–then teaching is the finest work I know.

But at other moments, the classroom is so lifeless or painful or confused–and I am so powerless to do anything about it–that my claim to be a teacher seems a transparent sham. Then the enemy is everywhere: in those students from some alien planet, in that subject I thought I knew, and in the personal pathology that keeps me earning my living this way. What a fool I was to imagine that I had mastered this occult art–harder to divine than tea leaves and impossible for mortals to do even passably well! (p. 1-2)

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