Stanley E. Porter, ed., Those Who Can, Teach: Teaching as Christian Vocation (McMaster Divinity College Press General Series). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, August, 2013. 226 pp. Paperback, $25.00.
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Thanks to Wipf & Stock for the review copy!
I’ve realized recently that I need to do more practical reading. That used to be the bulk of what kind of reading I did, but seminary shifted me more toward the theoretical. There is of course value to both types of reading and balance is not necessarily the end goal. But there is something to be said for reading both practical application and for expanding your understanding. Since I’ve been more focused on knowledge acquisition, I’m taking a more practical turn. Also, now that it’s summer, I’m taking a more enjoyable turn and re-read several books for pleasure.
This brings us to the book at hand, Those Who Can, Teach: Teaching as Christian Vocation. Edited by Stanley Porter (who seems to edit everything), this collection of essays overlaps for the most part with a typical “Teaching in Christian Higher Education” class you might take in seminary. I took one of these classes my last semester (it was required), but it was hard to apply the material in the absence of an actual teaching position. Now that I’ve been teaching for a few years, this kind of thing is supremely practical.
Stan Porter’s opening essay is on developing a philosophy of education, something that every teacher has, whether it is clearly articulated or not. Included are essays the basics of class design like developing course objectives (Michael Knowles), a syllabus (Cynthia Westfall), and learning experiences (Mark Boda). Additional topics include the art of sculpting a lesson (Lee Beach), encouraging theological reflection in the classroom (Wendy Porter), and even how to transition from the doctoral program to the classroom (Steven Studebaker). Though not as applicable in my case, there are also two essays on teaching introductory Greek and Hebrew respectively. The final two essays are more reflections on teaching as a whole, focusing first on teaching within a Christian institution (Gordon Heath) and then integrating spirituality into your teaching (Phil Zylla).
As I’m preparing to take a break this summer and revisit and refine my courses, the wisdom in this book is just what I needed. My subjects are set, but they could be more focused in terms of objectives and learning outcomes. I anticipate using the insights from the authors in this book as I get my prep for next year underway next week. If you are currently a teacher, or anticipate being one soon, this book is worth checking out. Though not as exhaustive as the material you might get in a full blown class on the same subject, it is a nice compact manual on how to structure a class and teach it well. Even though it is focused more on teaching in higher education, rather than high school, the basics of structuring a course apply just the same. Teachers at any level then, who want to take their vocation seriously, will benefit from this book.