My Students – A Pleasant Surprise

by hamiltonmj1983

My students are not brilliant. They are not the best of the best. They did not score outstanding on their SAT or ACT (I would be surprised if they all even took either of those tests). The assignments they have turned in to me allow me to guess that no more than 20% of them are “straight-A” or even almost “straight-A” students. They are community college kids (and some not-so-kids) in a coal mining town in Southwestern Virginia. Most of them won’t be going on to four-year universities.

It may seem like I am bashing my students; I assure you that I am not. I am just explaining the context of my classroom. I am actually very, very proud of (most of) my students. Right now I am attempting to teach them how to be observant readers. I want them to be able to critically engage the material that they are working with.

This may not seem to be a lot to ask; I, personally, think that this should be the standard minimum to ask. The problem, however, is that some of my fellow students during my time at Asbury Theological Seminary were unable to critically engage a biblical text. They could not read a text and make any observations without first consulting a commentary (which is sad, considering the push for “Inductive Biblical Study” that happens there).

My community college students surprised me. I asked them to read the book of Philippians in about 15 minutes, and then write down some observations. Tell me who wrote it, when they wrote it, where they were when they wrote it. They had a total of 30 minutes from when I had them start reading until I wanted to hear their observations. Different people approached the challenge differently. Some read from the first verse to the last verse, writing as they went. Others skimmed through the epistle, looking for keywords to help them find what they wanted.

The final result was outstanding. They told me that Paul wrote this letter from Jail. I know that seems obvious, but I honestly knew people in seminary, working on a MASTER’S DEGREE, that could not read the book of Philippians and tell me that it seems like Paul is imprisoned while he writes.

What really blew me away was when I asked who wrote the book. The answer was Paul. Obviously, we are pretty sure that is right, but for someone just reading through, the first verse says “from Paul and Timothy.” I said, “Hold on. I want you all to be observant readers. The first verse says from Paul AND Timothy, how did you miss that?” They said, “Well, I saw that. But Timothy is only mentioned one other time in the whole letter, and it doesn’t have anything to do with authorship,” and “The letter has some very personal information, so it doesn’t seem like two people wrote it,” and “All I see are first person singular pronouns, a lot of ‘I’ and ‘my,’ not ‘we’ or ‘our.'”

Like I said, this may not seem like this is that important or an outstanding achievement, but I was so proud of my students. I think last night was the best night of teaching I’ve had yet. That was just great!