“Watching great people do what you love is a good way to start learning how to do it yourself.”
—Amy Poehler, Yes Please
The first night of class, I tell my students the following:
“Take ownership of your education. You’re responsible for asking questions if you don’t understand; you’re responsible for reading the syllabus; you’re responsible for submitting your assignments on time. You are very fortunate to be here pursuing higher education. Only 33.5% of Americans have a college degree, and only 6.7% of the world’s population holds a college degree.”
While this might seem harsh, intense, or a bit soapbox-ish, the goal is to instill responsibility into students, and let them know that education is a privilege.
In recently bemoaning my first several weeks of teaching to friends, I commented that I feel inadequate; that I don’t know the content well enough; that I’m potentially giving faulty information; that my teaching abilities are lackluster; and that, overall, I’m a terrible teacher.
In the midst of my lament, I heard my own words come back to me:
“Take ownership over your teaching. You’re responsible for knowing the material; you’re responsible for presenting the content in a way that keeps students engaged; you’re responsible for improving your teaching methods. You are very fortunate to be teaching higher education. Not many people get to do what you do, have the schedule that you have, or spend numerous hours engaged in meaningful conversation about God’s Word.”
Teaching is a tremendous privilege which carries great responsibility.
I’ve realized that I wouldn’t care so much about stewarding this responsibility well if I didn’t in fact love teaching. I wouldn’t be nearly as concerned if I didn’t want to be great at it.
However, again, the responsibility of greatness falls to me.
No one is born knowing how to teach. It’s not something you know how to magically do. It’s something that you learn from modeling. I think Jesus even got some tips from other first century rabbis.
Like any profession, when it comes to teaching, ascending to greatness is a slow, often painful, uphill trek. There’s bound to be rough terrain, blisters, animals that come across your path, and perhaps, even random avalanches. Our best resource is to follow in the footsteps of those hikers who have trekked ahead of us.
If I want to be a great teacher, I need to watch great teachers. I need to emulate other professors that I loved learning from. I need to copy their styles, methods, and instructional genius, all the while, incorporating these into my own uniqueness. I need to observe how they lead, manage, and engage, to better understand my own strengths and weaknesses. In order to establish my own teaching identity, I need to witness how other professors have crafted theirs.
I need to take my cue from Amy Poehler.