A prose poem I wrote in the Creative Writing class I took last fall. (WordPress won’t let me reproduce its original linebreaks here) . . .IMG_2134

 

For the Love of Teaching

 . . . of all things visible and invisible. 
                                                The Nicene Creed

Some would say that it’s the invisible things we’re about in a classroom like mine: God, for instance, or love or goodness or truth. There’s truth in that, I suppose. Theology wrestles with much that is unseen.

And some would say that objectivity is the invisible goal in such a setting: Just give them the facts; let them decide.

And some would say that the teaching enterprise itself is something of an invisible pact: you fill their heads with knowledge, they prove their mastery of it (or they don’t), transaction complete.

But here’s what I see: In the mysterious synergism of a classroom discussion on, say, the lepers of Calcutta, we discover that God has a face, and that truth and goodness have arms and legs, hands and feet that are about the work of love in the world.

And I see that there is no way that I can teach them about God or love or truth in a way that exempts me from any of it. I’m not neutral—but neither am I an evangelist. Wasn’t it Kierkegaard who said that the best teaching is personal in the sense that the teacher impersonates—mimics, models herself after a kind of selflessness meant to move, persuade, compel, convince?

And I see that in our sterile, fluorescent-lighted classroom we operate less by contract than by covenant: the mutual promise to show up, to keep at it, to attend to the process and all its uncertainties, even when we don’t feel like it, even when we struggle—I to communicate and they to understand. Yes, there will be grades, but there is also, always, grace.

Because my students are also neighbors I’ve been given to love, I see in them—incomprehensible as it is to the bureaucrats of assessment and of managed classroom expectations—the very face of God. And in our common work, some days, once in a while, I think it was yesterday, love, goodness, and truth are right there in our midst—in a question asked, a doubt expressed, a circle closed. And at semester’s end, I hold onto the hope that beyond grades and through grace, each of us will have been surprised by joy, our unseen hearts moved to make the invisible visible: to be about the work of love in this world.