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A Better Way: What Am I Teaching? Part Two in a Series of Musings on Mentoring

By
Dianna Penner

“Plagiarism! Late homework! What is the problem with this student? What are they here at Bible College for?” Those were the initial thoughts racing through my mind as I wrote the note requesting that this student come to my office to talk. I thought I was simply doing my duty as a lecturer, wanting to help this student get back on track and meet the qualifications to succeed – as a student and as a future worker in Christ’s kingdom.

Those were my initial thoughts, but thankfully the Lord soon reminded me that He had other plans and desires. Before said student arrived I had a quick word of prayer and considered how to begin the conversation. A better way does not begin with pointing out errors and addressing the wrongs. A better way is to remember who I am because of Christ and to remember that the person before me is also a being created by God and deserving of dignity as an image-bearer. A better way is to speak to and respond to every person around me out of a heart transformed by the grace of God. A better way is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, and then to love my neighbour as myself. A better way as a teacher is to consider the student as I am considering the curriculum to be taught.

<span>Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@impatrickt?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Patrick Tomasso</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/student-reading?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a></span>
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

The last blog post tried to create awareness of a need which is not communicated in the prospectus of ICBM, but which should be in the heart of the lecturer: We all need to be mentored, and not just have our heads filled with knowledge, because we all have needs. We all need to learn far more than facts, arguments, evaluations, and critical analysis.

One teacher was asked, “What do you teach?” The reply was “I teach Bible and theology”.

Another teacher was asked, “What do you teach?” The response was, “I teach students”.

The subtle but important distinction in the two responses can and often does reflect the heart of the teacher. One is a teacher. Great! But the other has the heart of a mentor. At ICBM what do we teach? We must always ask ourselves as lecturers, do we teach curriculum or do we teach students?

Communicating a Vision

Every student in the midst of their academic programme dreams from time to time of their day of graduation when all the class work and academic writing is behind them. The diploma is in hand and they are set to be launched into ministry and the challenges of “real” life. But preparedness for the “real” life of a Christian approved by Christ is not revealed by the diploma in hand. Each prospective graduate of ICBM needs to be introduced early in their College programme to the vision of preparing to become more like Christ. Teaching students and not just Bible and theology is a better way to lead them closer to Christ.

<span>Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@joshuaearle?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Joshua Earle</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/vision?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a></span>
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Mentoring was presented in part one of Musings on Mentoring as an essential corollary of academic teaching. The accumulation of knowledge and skills needed for graduation may be taught in a classroom setting, but the bigger picture of a lecturer preparing servants of Christ who model His character leads to a focus on guiding or mentoring the individual student.

Paul’s mentoring heart was expressed in his own words: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Paul’s concern was to present Christ to the world by the way he himself lived. Paul’s concern was to bear the burdens of others (Gal 6:2) and to build others up in every way possible (Rom 14:19).

It was Jesus who pointed out the fact that well-trained disciples become like the teacher (Luke6:40). Paul’s model of behaviour, which reflected his own values, was to exalt Christ in every aspect of his own life (Phil 1:20), to keep seeking heavenly and not earthly values (Col 3:1-2) and to walk worthy of God (1 Thess 2:12).Students must be mentored so that they are prepared to present Christ to the world to which God is directing them. Using the words of Paul, the ICBM College verse states, “[Christ] we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col 1:28).

How can the time-pressed lecturer, who has little opportunity to sit and carry on a conversation with an eager student, hope to make a significant investment in the life of that student in ways other than faithfully teaching the truths of God’s Word? Paul left a high standard. Can we lecturers say to our students: “Imitate me, just like I am imitating Christ”? Do I as a lecturer have the vision of mentoring students to indeed imitate Christ in every aspect of their lives?

How can the lecturer catch and then communicate to students the vision of imitating Christ, seeking heavenly values, and walking worthy of the Lord? How is mentoring even possible in a Bible college situation? May I suggest that such a lecturer who really has the heart of a mentor (though perhaps not much available time) pay attention to concealed curriculum, concentrate on cultivating relationships, and care for the inner person of each student?

Concealed Curriculum

Other terminology in vogue includes “hidden curriculum”, and “implicit” or “explicit” curriculum. The concept concerns what is really taught in the classroom. The old adage, “What you do speaks louder than what you say” applies to teachers as well as to others in leadership. Consider the following two extremes:

Imagine, for example, a lecturer who hides in his or her office during chapel sessions, who never responds to WhatsApp messages from students and who is perpetually five weeks late in marking and returning homework. Regardless of how inspirational or profound the classroom teaching, what is really being communicated to students from this lecturer? The message which is heard, (i.e.: the hidden or concealed curriculum) is: “I care about the Bible but students are not important to me”.

On the other hand, a lecturer may spend much time with students, enjoying a cup of tea, hearing their stories, and laughing and crying with them. But the same lecturer never arrives on time to begin class and the teaching seems to ramble here and there because he or she never seems to be prepared to teach. What is the “hidden curriculum”? How do serious students view the friendly lecturer who does not demonstrate good time management and sufficient lesson preparation?

With the Apostle Paul as model, the lecturer with the heart of a mentor is keenly aware of the responsibility to faithfully model Christ before the students, both inside and outside the classroom, as well as to teach in such a way that students will be able to “teach others also” (2 Tim2:2). The hidden or concealed curriculum which does not come from the textbook, but rather from the role model of the lecturer, speaks louder than words.

Cultivating relationships

If I am teaching the Word and making my class material very clear for students to understand, what more is required of me? What is required of servants of Christ and stewards of the Word of God is faithfulness (1 Cor 4:1, 2). The faithful lecturer will work on modelling Christlikeness both inside and outside the classroom.

What difference does it make? Student expectations do not determine the capabilities of the lecturer. A fulltime lecturer will have more time available to personally interact with students than an adjunct lecturer who comes to campus to teach one module and then hurries off to another ministry obligation. Both lecturers must remember what God has called them to do: to model Christ in every way possible.

Cultivating Relationships

What difference does it make whether I cultivate relationships with my students or whether I fulfil my classroom duties and then avoid students altogether? The Epistles repeatedly emphasize the “one anothers” of fellowship in the body of Christ: “love one another” (John 13:34); “build up one another” Rom 14:19); “serve one another” (Gal 5:13); “pray for one another” (Jas 5:16); among many “one anothers”. These one anothers in action often open the door for relationships, discipling opportunities, mutual encouragement and ears and hearts open to receive exhortation.

Life is built on relationships, and the best way to model a godly lifestyle before students is to spend time with them. When a student’s questions or answers reveal doctrinal confusion, family problems, or personal struggles, a caring lecturer can spend a few minutes after class explaining, exhorting, counselling, praying, or just listening to the student.

At the end of the day, or at the end of a student’s academic career, does the graduating students from ICBM have a self-sacrificing love for the Lord, a heart for people and a life which models Christ and not merely an impressive transcript? An implicit role model of teaching content from a lecturer standing in front of the classroom and delivering content without engaging the students is not an ideal mentoring or shepherding model. It does make a difference, however, if we lecturers work at listening to students, becoming aware of their struggles and victories, and building relationships of care and concern for our students!

Caring for the Inner Person

The heart of a mentoring lecturer will cultivate relationships with students out of a concern for their personal well-being and progress in spiritual growth. While only God can peer into the heart of the student, the caring mentor can “make the most of every opportunity” to draw the student toward a personal application of doctrine to every aspect of his or her life.

There never will be sufficient time in the ICBM schedule in any given term to sit and chat with each student in one’s class in order to get to know them well. In a commuter college where students arrive in time (usually!) for their first class and are eager to be out the door and on their way when classes end – how is it possible to cultivate relationships with students with the goal of guiding them toward developing the inner person?

How is it possible? Creativity is helpful. Prayer is essential. Communication is non-negotiable. For a lecturer with a mentoring heart, at least a partial answer to the question of cultivating relationships and caring for the inner person begins with creating the vision: the genuine desire to get to know each individual so as to point them to Christ. A mentor has a caring heart which is warmed by the love of Christ.

Some suggestions for engagement with students include:

·      Engage students by well-thought-out questions in class;

·      Listen to responses of students and provide thoughtful feedback – even if it means going home and doing some more study

·      Make it a point to visit some of the churches of students

·      Pray with a different group each week during chapel time

·      Talk to different individuals each week outside the classroom

·      As often as possible drink your tea or coffee in the same place where the students congregate.

·      The list could go on…

 

Concluding remarks

I don’t always get it right. My initial thoughts about the erring student at the beginning of the article reveal how hard it can be for me to remember to love others as I love myself. I was out to “do my duty”, but as I reflect on Paul and on Christ, my duty is to consider the student, become aware of their difficulties and challenges, and model teaching which honours the Word of God and a life which reflects obedience to that Word. To that end, I desire to be a mentor who invests time in cultivating meaningful, Christ-honouring relationships with my students.

The next article in this series, titled “But I’m Not Old!” will peek into the life of a woman who does care about edification and encouragement.