Good News of Great Joy for All People

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
~ Luke 2:8-11

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~ Isaiah 9:6

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

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…knowing that as (teachers) we will incur a stricter judgment

This completes the title from my previous blog posting coming from James 3:1.

It was interesting that not long after I published that post on the genuine frustrations and questions I have from this first semester of returning to teaching, I attended a professional development on assessment. For those not fluent in teacher-speak, assessment is the term that is applied to whatever action the teacher takes to make sure the students learned what they were supposed to learn. This is most generally thought of as a test or exam.

While tests and exams are certainly types of assessments, to think of them as the only means of assessing student progress is to be a poor teacher. Assessments can take many forms and the best assessments are inseparable (and usually indistinguishable) from the content and activity of the lesson. In this way they arise naturally from the intellectual pursuit the students are undertaking (i.e. students don’t feel like they have just explored the Pythagorean Theorem through a group construction exercise but then have to take a silent, individual, paper quiz on the topic) and have high student involvement and ownership (i.e. students assess themselves and their peers progress through each step of the learning process – the activity is designed in such a way that students ask themselves “Do I know this action is correct? Is this the right way to proceed? Why?”).

This is not to say that I am an expert at developing such assessments or that I think tests should be done away with (I still give them). I simply want to point out that assessment can take many forms and that most often that form is in guiding and correcting questions during cognitive exploration rather than in a make-or-break final examination.

Which brings me back to the passage from James. Though this passage looks toward the future and the judgment (or assessment) we will have before the throne of God as people of authority and influence in the shaping of understanding and practice, I don’t think that is the only assessment we can expect to encounter. God gives more than just a final exam because God is not a poor teacher.

We are constantly being assessed and corrected by the grace of God. And as with the best of assessments we usually don’t even know that it is there – it is just a natural process of working to improve our lives bother personally and professionally. We should constantly be asking ourselves as God’s students “Do I know this action is correct? Is this the right way to proceed? Why?” Only our answers aren’t being drawn from a foundational knowledge of mathematical principles, but rather a foundational knowledge of God, His character, and His redemptive actions.

In the larger context of the 3rd chapter of James, James is discussing the dangers of the tongue and the need for believers to be very conscious of the power of words. Sometimes teaching is more about what we don’t say than what we do say. Sometimes we have to hold our tongue not just toward students but to fellow faculty, administrators, and parents. Even though we desire badly to justify ourselves before others, in reality we don’t have the authority to make that assessment. Only the Teacher holds that authority.

I’ve been reminded this semester that it is only God I should be working to please. The above was my attempt to explain that. I don’t think I have fine-tuned the assessment metaphor yet, but I wanted to go ahead and share my thoughts anyway…even though they aren’t perfect.

Let not many of you become teachers…

Sorry for the (extreme) delay in posting anything here. I haven’t given this blog much thought this semester since I have entered the “real” world of the teacher. But I have spent all this time thinking about how my experience of teaching could lead to some really excellent and in depth posts. So here it goes. Here is my deep insight into professional education:

Teaching is hard. Period.

While I have enjoyed building relationships with students and getting a chance to attempt a subtle integration of theology and mathematics, the last few months have really left me more frustrated than satisfied and with more questions than answers.

So I thought I would use this space to throw out some questions. They aren’t easy questions so I don’t expect them to have easy answers. But if there are any experienced educators out there, I would love to hear your thoughts on the following:

1. How do you get kids excited about a subject that they generally dislike and you genuinely adore when the school mandated curriculum bores you to the point that your own interest in the subject is strained?

2. How do you instill an attitude in students that desires success when the prevailing atmosphere (school wide) is one of deep apathy toward education? (To give you an idea of where I’m coming from: Whenever I pass out an exam without fail the first question I get, before the the students have even looked at the test, is ‘When can we do test corrections?’)

3. While I see my job as a ministry (or at least that’s what I have to remind myself on those difficult days), I still wonder how do you balance the time and effort you put into teaching with the time and effort that God requires of you in your marriage, in other relationships, and in local church involvement?