Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Challenge of the Classroom

The new academic year began last week for primary and secondary schools in this part of the world, and most colleges/universities in the area began classes this week. Once again both teachers and students face the challenge of the classroom.
After nearly three months of “freedom,” young students face the restrictions required for classroom decorum and the necessity of having to concentrate on doing their schoolwork. Teachers have to struggle with the problem of discipline in the classroom and getting the students engaged in the learning process. That always has been quite a challenge, but perhaps even more so now than in the past.
Even though they face various challenges, teachers, both good teachers and those who aren’t so good, have a lasting impact on their students. I still remember, mostly with fondness and gratitude, all of my grade school teachers.
On the Internet I was able to find the birth and death dates as well as the burial places for each of my grade school teachers from the third grade, my first year in Worth County (MO), through the eighth grade. I was surprised to discover that even though, with one exception, I thought they were quite old when I was in their classrooms, that wasn’t the case at all!
I probably don’t remember all of my high school teachers and would not be able to find out information about each of them, for some of them were not from Worth County and did not remain in the area. But I do remember most of them, and I am also grateful for the influence they had on my life.
The same is true, of course, for my college and seminary professors. And I am very pleased that a couple of them are regular readers of this blog. I am also happy that a number of my former students also read this blog.
My experience as a teacher is all on the college and seminary level, which is quite different from primary and secondary education. Still, the college classroom has its unique challenges for both students and professors.
Except for my first full year of “retirement,” I have taught college or seminary courses every year since 1968. And there certainly have been challenges, especially when I started teaching and had to lecture completely in Japanese!
But I enjoyed my years of teaching in Japan, especially after making it through those difficult first five years or so. And it was a pleasure to teach (in English!) in three different schools in Missouri during “furloughs” from Japan.
Since the fall of 2006 I have greatly enjoyed teaching one course each semester at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. I teach one section of the required course Christianity II: Development. This semester I will be using a different textbook than I have used in the previous five years. It is Mark Ellingsen’s Reclaiming Our Roots: An Inclusive Introduction to Church History; Volume II: From Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. (1999).
I can’t wait to get to my classroom this evening, the first class of the new semester, and once again confront the challenge of the classroom.


  1. Teaching truly is a wonderful experience! As you mentioned, one of the challenges is getting the students "engaged in the learning process." I think a teacher's goal ought not to be just for the students to receive good grades, (though that is certainly a worthy and challenging goal) but to truly inspire the students and to engage them in ways that only a teacher can. I don't remember any textbooks or websites that inspired or challenged me, but I certainly can't forget the teachers who did so.

    Oh, and I know what you mean by being eager to get back into the classroom. I myself am already missing the classroom and my students and am looking forward to starting the next semester soon!

  2. Good luck with this semester, Les and Leroy. I'm taking the semester off, hoping to get some writing done. I'm giving myself a sabbatical.

  3. I remember all but one of my teachers by name, except for 1st grade, although I can still picture her. I can also tell the key point I learned each year. I remember high expectations to study and learn coming from my parents, and that all of the schools (except in the Kansas City school district) had high expectation of their students. In high school the extrinsic motivation became intrinsic in a competitive boarding school setting.

    I am convinced that parents set the educational expectations and foundations which last a life-time. Good teachers, schools and school districts provide the platform. Both are needed to achieve one's potential. (NCLB completely misses the critical roll of the parents in education.)

  4. Three cheers for all teachers and learners!!

  5. Great parents, great teachers and great schools make a great team. Unfortunately, not all the components are always available. As a society, we cannot just wash our hands of failing children who happen to have less than great parents or schools.

    As I write this, neighboring Kansas City has just made it through its first weekend of curfew peace on the Plaza, an upscale shopping district hit by juvenile unrest recently. When the young people themselves were asked about it, they complained of a lack of options, even as the city is contemplating further reductions in funding for community centers and other possible draws for the young.

    Schools are frequently blamed for a failure that extends far beyond their doors. Yet, hidden in that complaint, is a hope. The hope that somehow in the arena of education we can overcome the failures of home and community. That is a tremendous burden, yet also a great opportunity.

    Considering the basis of this blog, we might look at one more institution in this context, the church. Now churches are fairly good at helping the children of members. We even reach other children who happen to come with a friend. Yet that is a small slice of most communities. What is the potential? How can we reach it?