Where the Classroom Meets Life

Reflections on the start of a new Institute semester, from the Teacher's Quarters

Teaching isn’t something a person does to support an extravagant lifestyle.  If you’re a teacher, you do it because you appreciate the craft, you look forward to the impact you can have on a student and you yourself are probably pretty addicted to learning.  

Given this recipe, it's hard to go wrong chatting with a teacher about why the classroom is the place they thrive.  Recently, I sat down with the core teachers at the Institute for G.O.D. to do just that.  

I first wanted to know what helps each of them stay fresh, given that all of them have taught their courses year after year, some for nearly a decade.  For all of them, teaching is more than helping a student mentally retain facts.  Because Institute classes are either directly focused on the Bible or have biblical values at their core, each teacher has taken on the concern that students find ways to apply the values they are learning outside the classroom.

Jeff  Sherrod, noted, “I think if you have a calling to be a teacher there are moments when a student realizes something and it hits them real deeply. You can see the mental work involved and the emotional response, and even the spiritual challenge.  That never gets old.”  

During the winter break, Institute Instructor Brandon Galford taught the adult track at Bible Talk 2016, a weekend of intensive study and discussion of the Bible and its relevance for the everyday life.

They all agreed that because the work of G.O.D. is always progressing and students are finding a variety of ways to apply lessons from the classroom, concepts can find their outworking in different arenas as opportunity arises.  Be it working at an after-school program, assisting an elderly widow in the neighborhood or working on a food truck, these different facets of student experience keep each teacher on their toes to keep content relevant.

The teachers have tried their best to take on the motto coined by Gregg Garner: “We teach students, not classes.”  It’s an intriguing nuance, and I was interested in how they actually implement this idea in the classroom. 

“I find this idea challenging and motivating because it requires us to have a more personal relationship with each student,” said Brandon Galford.  “You can’t fake it. It motivates you to spend more time assisting students, because it's about their development in Christ.”

Benjamin Reese followed up, “I think in teaching students material you really have to push to see if the student is actually getting what you are communicating, which can be an uncomfortable dance. There’s that moment when the student will give you an answer, and you can see that maybe they understand, but then you have to make that decision to question them a little bit further to see if they actually understand.  Whereas, it’s easy as a teacher to say, ‘I think they probably got that; that’s somewhat what I said,’ instead of really pushing in.” When teaching students, and not just material, you have to keep pushing.

Benjamin Reese's specialty is Hebrew poetry. He teaches Hebrew, the Psalms, Literary Analysis and Wisdom literature, giving students a firm foundation in the Word, and connecting it to his own craft as a poet. 

More than concerning themselves with strictly following a syllabus, these teachers have to recognize that each semester they are faced with a new set of students, with different personalities who come from different backgrounds.  The material must be presented in a way that connects with those particular students.  A challenging, yet rewarding task.  

I walked away from the few minutes I spent with this team impressed with the deep care that they put into their work.  It’s one thing to care that your students are actually retaining helpful information.  That’s good stuff.  But it reaches another level when you want to make sure that same material is making its way into the building up of their character and is reflected in the way they treat their neighbor. 

So while they won’t ever get rich doing what they are doing, these educators are very satisfied with the rewards offered to them with every batch of students that comes through their classroom - that process of discovery, when a student connects to the material in such a way that it changes them as a person.