Monday, August 20, 2007

I wanted to write this for a while.

"It was my luck to have a few good teachers in my youth, men and women who came into my dark head and lit a match." Yann Martel
I could tell stories about most of my professors in college, but three stand out, and three events define their influence on me.

1) At a weekend conference my last semester of college, I stood up and asked a question that made me feel the most foolish I've ever felt.

I said, "We're talking about what we are doing with the rest of our lives and how Christianity gives us meaning and purpose to build our lives on, but what are we saved to? I feel like I should know the answer, because I've studied the Bible and Theology here for four years, but I don't. What are we saved to?"

The room just looked at me, and the speaker gave some earnest but hasty answer. I sat down ashamed of my ignorance--I should have known better.

After the session was over, the speaker came up to me and pointed to one of my professors in the room. He said, "John Stonestreet was jumping out of his skin when you asked that question." John stepped up and said, "I was dying for someone to ask that question, because that is the right question."

John helped me begin finding the answer to my question--not simply standard phrases and vague ideas. He gave me permission to ask questions, the conviction that there answers, and the conviction that the answers matter.

2) My Freshman year, I had a large research paper to write in a Biblical Studies class and Dr. Dan Wilson walked me over to the library one day, pulled out all of the relevant research tools and walked me through the steps of researching and writing my paper. He showed me how each book or software worked and how it fit into my research project, then he said, "Now, you do it," and walked off.

Dr. Dan told me, showed me, and then challenged me to do it myself. He sent other students to me to do the same for them. I learned more about studying the Bible and about teaching that day in the library than I did at any moment in college.

3) I remember another professor (I'll keep his name anonymous for his privacy) for the golf games. We played once a week during my final semester of college. We'd wake up early to play a round before classes or head out after class before the sun set. I don't remember anything he said, but I remember watching him as his life fell apart.

I knew his marriage was rough and that the school wanted to fire him. He was too liberal for the conservative schools and too conservative for the liberal schools, so he was unwanted at his own school and unwanted anywhere else.

He'd taught us about Hebrew lament poetry in classes, but I saw him live those laments. I watched him sad and hurt. I feel like I watched him mourn. But I saw him trust God in spite of the circumstances.

Those three men (and several other men and women) are the reason I want to teach. I want to do for students unlike me--not on big scholarships to study theology, but normal kids studying education, literature, and business--what those men did for me.

When my students have questions, I want to walk with them towards the answers.

When my life falls apart and students ask, "Why don't you just curse God and die?," I want to be close enough that they know, "He who promised is faithful to finish what he started in me. Whatever happens, I won't quit."

"Mature teachers see teaching as a mission. They challenge students with new skills in order to change them, grow them, mature them. The mission is greater than reading and lecturing and answering questions-it is to stimulate a desire for excellence, first in the subject at hand, but beyond that, in life itself." William R. Yount

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