Teaching is Fun

After two weeks of teaching at Willamette University, I’m ready to declare teaching fun. I’m sure I won’t always feel as positive about it as I do right now, but I just finished going over my students first set of  “response papers,” an every-other-week writing assignment in which I ask them to react to the readings, the lectures, or their own reactions to the course. Designed to be more blog-post than academic assignment (my instruction was that it should take 10 – 20 minutes), the responses have been as diverse as my students, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

It’s my first chance to see what students are connecting to in the course, or being challenged by in it.  One reason I love teaching is that I love forcing people to think beyond preconceptions, to explore ideas at a deeper level, and many of these students are doing exactly that. Whether reflecting on how what they are learning affects their own faith (non-Jewish), or thinking about the contrast between studying history and studying the mytho-historic account of a culture (in this case Judaism), to reflecting on teaching style, or a very detailed reaction to a specific page in the reading, it’s all been great.

I’m having so much fun with these response papers, I’d love to make them weekly (relax, students, I’m not going to do it). Even though I suspect it takes me as long to write notes on these as it took many of the students to write them in the first place, the thoughtfulness shown in the writing, and the connections made between material we’re covering and the rest of the world makes it a fabulous exercise. Judaism teaches that we learn as much from our students as we do from our teachers. I’m honored to be learning from my students.

Rabbi David, Now as a Professor

Tomorrow, I embark on a new adventure. I will be teaching a college course on Judaism at Willamette University.

Now, I’ve taught about Judaism in a variety of settings for years. I’ve taught pre-schoolers. I’ve taught kids in elementary school. I’ve taught middle-schoolers (the pre-schoolers were way easier). I’ve taught high-school students. I’ve taught adults. I’ve even taught classes at retirement homes. But, until now, never have I taught at a college.

The good news is that I have a fair amount of experience as both an undergraduate and a graduate student. The even better news is that, in some ways, this will be the educational setting that is the best match for my style, which is challenging people to think about ideas, and to question easy answers.

So I’ve selected textbooks, put together a syllabus and begun to outline lectures and class sessions. I’ve been to the university HR office, and been officially hired as a part-time Visiting Assistant Professor. I know where my classroom is, and have enjoyed fabulous support from the departmental secretary. Admittedly, I’m still somewhat confounded by the internal websites for the university, but that might be because I don’t have everything setup right yet.

And tomorrow, I drive down to Salem, and I enter a new classroom, with a new group of students, and together, we’ll learn something about Judaism.