By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Teacher's End of Semester Reflections

16th Century Classroom, University of Salamanca, Spain
via Flickr/Wikimedia Commons
With my having finished yesterday a challenging and bracing semester of teaching an Introduction to Scripture course, it is time to take stock.

1.) First, students should never underestimate the impact that their earnest efforts and dedication can have on a teacher. It's just plain inspiring. Also, everyone likes gratitude; and I am sincerely energized by the gratitude expressed by students who were obviously sincerely moved by the course.

2.) It was amazing to me how our assigned biblical readings and themes tracked the Sunday liturgical readings, with no coordination, at least by me.

3.) I continue to be thankful for my discovery (from reading the work of others) of the New Exodus theme which gives a textually-based hermeneutic for the entire canon of the Bible. In our zeal for accumulating information, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. It's nice to see the forest since we will never master all the information available to us. For more on the New Exodus theme, see this link.

4.) I finished the semester by having each student give an oral presentation or oratio on a parable from the Gospels. This format is particularly fitting for biblical studies since the Good News was first proclaimed and handed down precisely as oral proclamation and teaching (Catholics and some others like to call it "oral tradition"). Of course, the Master never wrote down his own sermons or teachings--he taught by word of mouth. 

In addition, we believe that Paul dictated many, if not all, of his letters; and scholars detect, in at least some of Paul's letters, features that were standard in Greco-Roman orations. Thus, to present the Bible in oral speech, is very much to engage in--what verb can I devise here?--"Bible-ing." Speaking the Bible is in the very character of a Bible that was intended, especially when it comes to the letters of the New Testament, to be read aloud and which arose from oral speech in the first place.

5.) I am also thankful for the amazing scholars who dare to write introductions to the entire Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and introductions to the entire New Testament. It is an amazing feat to cover it all in one volume. While, as is no surprise and as is inevitable, I do not always agree with the wording or articulation of various points by textbook writers, their work is invaluable as a starting-point in a survey course. In addition, critically engaging with the work of reputable scholars models for students what they are called to do in their own research in various scholarly commentaries and other sources: to read and listen with an open and humble mind, but also to not be afraid to criticize and note one's own divergent view of what a scholar writes. We have no choice but to use the admittedly imperfect because no human scholar has ever produced or ever will produce the perfect, although we sometimes pretend otherwise.

All in all, teaching (especially when teaching the greatest work of literature ever written in any culture anywhere) is one of the pinnacles of the human experience. This semester again confirmed that truth for me.