Many Thoughts on My Course Prophets and Prophecy After A Semester of Heaven and Hell
By and large I am happy with the way the course turned out. This was my first time teaching it. Even though the university’s official evaluation forms are kept in some secret vault until the final grades are turned in, I’ve read the comments on my personal evaluation forms (that are anonymous) and also for a recent assignment I had students blog their thoughts about the course and how they thought I should teach it in the future. So I have some idea about how students felt regarding the semester.
First I need to address what might be called the Cain Abel syndrome, as this is what troubled me the most and in the future will improve my teaching I hope. My 9 AM section was the best section I’ve ever had, and I will very much miss the discussions we had. We worked on a very high level with erudition and enthusiasm. There were a few personalities in there that made for excellent group dynamics. Just about everything went fantastically. However, my 8 AM section was the worst I have ever had by far. Same class material, but 180 degree different results. There was organized resistance to just about everything I did in the class. Much of this had to do with an argument we had about my high expectations with the first paper assignment. The main thing I learned is that it is a terrible idea to argue with students in class. I suppose most teachers know this, but I had some utopian understanding that further communication would bring this student to realize that though I set the bar high the paper was going to be very good for their education. That day I should have said to the student that raised the issue “I’m sorry you are having difficulty with your paper. I feel we’ve spent adequate class time going over this previously, and if you have any questions I encourage you to email me or visit during office hours.” If he/she continued, I should have asked them to leave. Through the course of the semester I had several students in that section repeatedly voice how they would teach the course. This mostly reflected that they thought the course would be a Bible study about the biblical prophets. I had one student say on the evaluation forms that I did not respect Christian students. This was the same student that felt my critique of Mel Gibson’s Passion movie was equivalent to criticizing Christians. Anyway, I hope that student later in life will find a teacher who can open his/her mind, as I wasn’t the one for sure. Many 8AM students wished I would have done more to silence the disgruntled students, as they were distracting and created a poor learning environment. I should have, and am sorry I didn’t. In the very least I should have separated the disrespectful group so they didn’t sit near each other, and I should have asked students who were not being respectful of my class to leave and meet with student services before being allowed to attend. This was the same section that had a student complain to the Dean that I said Biology majors were stupid after I really said that I was surprised that Biology majors I’ve been told are the most intelligent majors we have, so I can’t believe they’re the ones having the most difficulty with this assignment. A student in class said they hadn’t written a book report since the 5th grade, and I said great, I’m sure they pull it off, and then some student told the Dean that I said Xavier students couldn’t write on a 5th grade level. After the Dean called me about this complaint, I apologized to the class in a written statement (it’s on an earlier blog) about how I had great respect for Biology majors. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have apologized because I didn’t say anything out of line. I also wish the students would come to me first if they have a problem, and if it can’t be resolved they should go to the chair. The Dean in my opinion might have asked the students first if they have brought this up with the instructor before taking on the roles of judge and jury. Anyway, I’m quite glad that section will be finished. I spoke with my chair and others about this section through the course of the semester. Some good feedback included that I should work on keeping the border between faculty and students in place. So, I’ve finished signing my emails to students Michael and started using Dr. Homan. Probably a good idea. Seems like democracy in the classroom worked just find as long as students remembered it wasn’t exactly a democracy. So, in addition to all the negative stuff above about how I would improve the class by being more of a hardass, some other good ideas from me and students include:
1. Take one lecture towards the end and discuss Nostradamus and other more recent so-called prophets.
2. Do one more group project, perhaps have groups of three present a 5 minute skit on each of the Minor Prophets. The movies they did in group projects worked out great.
3. Blog less but more meaningfully. Instead of blogging before every class, once a week would be better. They could blog about upcoming papers. I’m still exploring ways to get students to do the reading.
4. Reduce Former Prophets material into one week.
5. Start off with Jeremiah in much detail and then explore ANE prophecy, then come back to biblical prophets.
6. It wasn’t enough for some students to discuss paper guidelines in class. Even though I have an extensive website about what I expect from papers, I need on the syllabus to be more specific about each paper.
7. I need more problem based learning assignments. I should come up with something similar to Bible Mysteries that I use in my Intro to Biblical Studies course.
8. I need to find better books. Some students loved David’s Secret Demons, some hated it. Those that hated it were divided between a couple fundamentalists who felt Halpern should not question biblical history. Others felt it was too difficult to understand. I loved the book, and thought it exemplified critical thinking and biblical studies very well, but if it reached only some students is it worth keeping it in the class. Perhaps it would be better suited for a class on David, or on the Monarchy, or something like that. I also did not like the book Meet the Prophets very much. Prophets and Prophecy in the ANE could be reduced to a few representative sections. We should have read Wen Amon in its entirety. One week on Prophecy in the ANE would be adequate.
9. Turn the last paper, about making the world a better place, into a bigger part of the grade and have them start earlier on it. Maybe their blog could be about this, and have weekly entries on how it is going. I’ll know more about this when I read their papers on this topic.