My teaching philosophy has been shaped by experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Four principles in particular have become key components of my teaching philosophy.
First, I strongly believe that discussion is a vital component of any successful class. Discussion actively engages students, nudging them out of the role of passive learner. It fosters a learning environment that enables students to grasp the importance of their own contributions and to take responsibility for their own learning. It also ensures that students’ actual questions and concerns about the subject matter are raised. I have fostered discussion in my own classes in a variety of different ways. These include the following: 1) I have attempted to cultivate an interactive style of lecture, one which not only leaves room for questions and comments, but also requires active class participation. 2) I assign discussion questions relating to the reading so that students come to class ready to contribute. 3) I will periodically divide the class into small discussion groups of three to four. These groups provide a safe environment for students to “try out” their ideas and enter into dialogue with one another.
Second, I am convinced that the best learning happens when students can clearly see the connection between the subject matter and their lives. A class that is devoted to dynamic study of the Bible must reach students on three levels at once: providing insight into the past, guidance in the present, and hope for the future. One way I have sought to facilitate a dynamic response to the biblical text is through my choice of assignments. In addition to research papers, I have asked students to write psalms, prophetic critiques, sermons and short stories written from the point of view of various biblical characters. These assignments have consistently encouraged students to consider the relevance of the Bible for their own lives.
Third, I encourage students to grapple with the tensions and ambiguities they find in the Scripture. Rather than gloss over such issues, I use them as an occasion for theological reflection. I have found that such “difficulties” serve an important role in the learning process. They force one to approach the biblical text with eyes wide open, waiting to see what lies around the next corner.
Fourth, I am committed to shaping my courses in such a way that many of the goals stretch beyond the course’s completion. Success cannot be measured simply by the amount of information learned. Students will leave one of my courses having had their curiosity and excitement for the Bible piqued. In addition, they will have been equipped with the practical and conceptual tools necessary to continue the process of biblical exploration on their own.