Monday, April 15, 2013

Perspectives on my Perspectives semester

I started teaching Perspectives classes in the mid or late 1990s, and have been an instructor at 6-12 classes a year ever since. Once I got my groove on (teaching the history of Christian missions) I only had to make relatively minor adjustments from one class to another. Usually if I changed something up it was more because I was getting bored with the old stuff and discovered something new that I liked better than that what I'd been teaching wasn't working.

Most years, teaching opportunities came in twos and threes. I'd teach in one church on a Sunday afternoon, another that Monday night, and maybe a third on Tuesday. With many classes within a couple hours' drive of my house, I could pull off all my responsibilities for a semester - preparation, travel, and teaching - with an investment of maybe 50-60 hours per six classes.

When I moved to Oregon, though, I told my previous contacts that I didn't want to teach outside the West. I hoped I'd still be invited to Colorado (and get a free trip to visit friends there out of it!) But they have an abundance of qualified teachers in that area, so nobody has contacted me about coming back. Opportunities in the Northwest have been fewer because they don't know me here. I've traveled long distances for each of the six classes this term. I've also been invited to teach different topics each time, so I've had to prepare a new material, and put in 150-200 hours of my work time instead of 50. That's meant I've worked very long hours these last six weeks. I've had less time to put into other projects, including some I'm pretty sure would mean more to my supervisor.

A couple of people have asked me, lately, why did I make trying to get into these classes such a priority? What makes it worth it to me to do this kind of thing? I wasn't sure how to answer.

I have to acknowledge there's some performance motive. I've got a lot of stuff in my head I want to share with other people. It was great to be able to pass along some ideas and questions that have piqued my interest in the last year, and that helped me grow and refine my thinking. And now I have half a dozen interesting and effective lesson plans that are up-to-date and ready to use for the future. Normal life provides few opportunities to take on concrete challenges, perform in some way, and get meaningful constructive feedback. So maybe teaching classes is like my mom making something to show at the county fair, my sister entering an adjudicated art show, or my stepson signing up for an optional swim meet. I don't need the blue ribbon, but just being accepted and making a good show helps me improve my own "performance."

There are some other things I get out of this, for myself. I made about $1500 in honorarium payments and book sales. Not much if you're thinking of the hourly rate, but this goes toward my salary and helps bolster the ol' ministry account. I signed up a bunch of new people for our online magazine. The all-expenses paid trips to Alaska and Michigan were certainly a treat, and so was the opportunity to make some meaningful connections with mission leaders and other like-minded people across the state of Oregon. I certainly made some new friends for myself and possibly for Pioneers, an organization many of them had never heard about before.

Other motives are more external. I like to do my part in keeping the fine institution of Perspectives rolling along. I believe in what they're trying to do. The coordinators of the six classes were helped in accomplishing the goals of their programs, and they were glad to have my help. A number of the participants told me how much they felt encouraged or informed by something from my teaching or example. Somehow just having a woman show up and talk about missions makes a huge difference to people. Most of the instructors are still old white guys. Many of them do a fabulous job, but sometimes people need to see someone different in that position, someone who doesn't fit the profile, in order to say, hey, maybe what they are talking about is for me, too.

It's good to get enough feedback to know that my contribution is making a difference. But I have to resist any tendency to try to be a superstar in this rather small mission-speaker world. The temptation is there. When I asked questions about the speakers before me, I felt a stab of jealousy at hearing students and leaders praise the most popular speakers on this circuit, all men who impress classes with their flashy performances. It's probably a good thing that I don't do this kind of thing full-time. By this time of year my job there is done. I organized and packed everything away and will likely not need it again until 2014.

It's better for my soul to put in more hours behind the scenes than on the stage. It's also more consistent with what I'm trying to teach and model - being a servant and willing to be forgotten, not an impressive hero about whom others say, "I could never do that."

The last class I taught was the one on incarnational ministry ("building bridges of love"). I tried to emphasize approaches that major on listening to learning from people in your host community and affirming and empowering them. I shared this story and asked them to wrestle with it. I closed with this quote and the story of this man.

I think it all worked pretty well this year. To God be the glory. Here's some of the student feedback.
"I really enjoyed your lecture. I thought your personal experience in the field was very on point for this lesson. I enjoyed the open discussion in class. I thought it was great that you allowed us to process through some of the material as a group." 
"I really appreciated the way Marti's presentation facilitated open conversation and dialogue among us students. This class was by far the most open and comfortable session we have had so far as a group, and it felt REALLY good. Thank you Marti for being so personable, approachable and letting the Spirit lead."

"She was one of the best teachers yet! She knew how to engage and make us think."


Megan Noel said...

i think there is a lot to be said about being an approachable teacher, you know? which is not necessarily consistent with flashy. i find myself thinking about things you've said after we talk and i imagine your students find themselves thinking about your lectures down the line. maybe it's just more subtle sometimes.

i have had someone ask me about teaching for the 1st time in a long time. need to decide how i want to approach it. i'd actually rather teach solo and not through an organization etc but then i'd need to locate an affordable space, etc.

julie said...

I took the mini-perspectives course a few years ago and still remember very clearly some of the people who helped teach it...especially one couple who had lived in Pakistan, they gave a great perspective (no pun intended) that I've never forgotten.