On Being a Christian, an Apologist, a Poet, and a Teacher: Interview with The Well
In November 2012, while I was in Madison, WI speaking at a conference, I was invited to visit and speak with a group dedicated to supporting Christian women in graduate school. I enjoyed the conversation very much, and so I was glad to provide a follow-up interview for The Well, their website.
We covered quite a lot of ground in the interview, which you can read in its entirety here. Topics included how to talk about sin with non-Christian colleagues; what literary apologetics is and how literature played an important role in my conversion; why Christians should read more; what poets do; and the ‘impostor syndrome’ that so many women feel at times. I was delighted that we also talked about teaching, since that’s such an important part of my life! Here’s an excerpt:
Any surprises for you teaching as a professor? You’ve been doing this now for several years. Do you enjoy teaching?
Yeah, I love teaching. I’ve been teaching for a long time. I taught as a graduate student, and then I taught for seven years at a community college in California. Now I’m at Houston Baptist University. And I think the thing that surprised me when I became full-time faculty, which I’m used to now, is how much work there is to do that’s not what people think of as “teaching.” There’s all the administrative work that even regular faculty members have to do — paperwork, committee meetings, recording grades, and so on. And even for teaching, what you see in the classroom is just the tip of the iceberg as far as preparation goes. In the class, having a discussion, it may look like I’m coming in and talking to my students, but there’s a tremendous amount underneath of prep work, of reading, of knowing about the particulars of the students that I have, what do they need, what do they understand, and where are the gaps, and what do I want them to get out of this — it’s amazing how much more you need to know of the material than you think you do.
There really is a lot that has to happen conceptually outside the classroom, and then when that’s done, then the classroom experience seems very easy. When I was a new teacher, I used to have these detailed lesson plans down to five or ten minute increments of what we would do for activities, and that was helpful at the time. It covered what I would do if we ran out of things to do. That used to be a problem — now the problem is always that we don’t have time for all the things I want to do.
But one of the things that I came to understand wasn’t something I had learned as a graduate student but something I learned as a full-time faculty. You need to be able to think on the fly. It’s an organic situation that includes my students, their preparation, their state of mind on that given day, what I know, where I want them to go… so there’s going to be decision-making processes that happen within the classroom that you can’t possibly prep for. You can only respond as you go. Sometimes the best decision is to scrap everything you’ve planned and do something totally different — but that decision has to be based on experience of recognizing when something isn’t working, and understanding why, and having a number of different alternatives in your head, so you can smoothly transition over to something else. Teaching is creative work in real time.
There’s a lot more: Read the full interview here.