Monday, September 27, 2004

My Teaching Philosophy
Over the weekend, as part of this course portfolio workshop in which I am participating, I revised my Teaching Philosophy. It now reads as follows:

“You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Talking Serpent in Gen 3:4-5 (ca. a very very long time ago)

I was always troubled by God’s harsh response to Adam and Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden. But, given the choice between immortality and knowledge, I’m eternally grateful to Adam, Eve, and even the snake for initiating the process of eye-opening experiences. As one who teaches topics related to the Bible, ancient Near Eastern history, and archaeology, I am both proud and honored, and I take my vocation as a learning facilitator very seriously.

The Bible has been read by more people and has been translated into more languages than any other book in history. Yet, for all its popularity, the Bible is probably the least understood book in the world. Teaching courses pertaining to the Bible allows me to make this influential and amazing work understandable and accessible to non-experts. Many of my publications and projects, such as The Bible for Dummies and BibleDudes ( were written in the attempt to reach this goal. I work hard both in the classroom and outside of it to passionately share my expertise in these important topics.

When others, especially former students, look back on my life, I want to be remembered as a good teacher. Good teachers create effective learning environments, they convey their enthusiasm for the topic, and they are capable of envisioning where the student’s potential will take them instead of focusing on where the student’s ability currently or previously resides. They are respectful, but they also set their expectations high and demand excellence. Good teachers value feedback and are accessible, friendly, and collegial. They are role models. Good teachers want to improve the world, and try even in the most difficult of times to be optimistic. They are honest and feel comfortable in the limits of their expertise. They even say “I don’t know.” I believe that teaching is more than a job, it is a vocation, a life-long journey that emphasizes the very best aspects of humanity. When I can contribute to a student’s eye-opening experience--when I can stand back and survey the classroom as the people are being empowered with the ability to think critically, that is a substantially rich and gratifying reward indeed.

In the classroom, I used to employ a standard lecture format, but I found this didn’t work effectively for me as a teacher. During the past five years I have increasingly incorporated a variety of additional methods. While I continue to lecture at times, I also show many still and moving digital images along with audio clips to spark interest and enhance overall retention and comprehension. I include several student projects in the semester, and have found that these can be entertaining and excellent pedagogical tools. I try very hard to be entertaining in the classroom. Most recently, I have explored teaching methods involving technology in order to facilitate learning. Thus, I helped students develop websites that apply critical methods to the Torah. Last semester I created with my students several digital movies that focused on prophecy as well as the Enuma Elish, and then I put these movies online. This semester I am experimenting by having students post 2000 word entries per week on a blog regarding a project that they came up with that relates to biblical studies and improves the world. For more than a year I have kept a blog about teaching Bible, ancient Near Eastern history, and archaeology, and have received a great deal of feedback from both students and fellow educators.

I want to be a better teacher. I have grown from my successes and failures in my capacity to educate myself and others. I know that in time I will be a different teacher from the one that I am now. I’m not exactly sure what these differences will be precisely, but I will cherish the journey.

1 comment:

Tim Bulkeley said...


This reads like what I'd have wanted to write at about teaching.

Apart from the list of things tried, mine is shorter and less ambitious, among the things it includes that are not also on your list: posting student critiques of articles they have read online and requiring the class to add comments to at least two, and I confess using simple online tests to "bribe" students to do "required reading" - 10% for passing a series of simple multichoice questions...