30 October 2008

Now what do I do?

Perhaps one of the most difficult moments for a teacher comes when he cannot express clearly to his students the lesson he wants to teach. Such was my experience today.

The expected engagement with the students did not go quite as expected. They did not stick to the offensive; I think my disappointment in their efforts - at least as I perceived them - took them a bit off guard. It seems my expectations were rather high, and unfairly so.

It seems one of my classes sincerely did not understand the reading on which they were to base their reflection paper. Even after I walked through the reading with them I'm still not certain the message was received and comprehended fully.

This troubles me greatly. I want nothing more than to communicate the truths of the faith to them, but it seems I currently lack the proper words.

The reasons for this are manifold. The reading was simply "above their heads." This is not, of course, an insult on their intelligence, but a reflection of a poor choice of readings on my part. Just because I understand the reading without any difficult, I cannot presume that others will, too.

Today I am reminded all too clearly of what I only recently became aware.

All through high school and college I was always one of the first students to complete a test, in whatever subject, with the possible exception of math (I still don't like math). Never wanting to be one of the first finished, I always doublechecked my answers several times waiting for someone else to turn in their test first.

I never did realize why I finished tests and other things more quickly than others. I always attributed it to a general laziness on the part of others, though I never had any basis for this judgment.

One day in the seminary everything was made clearer for me. I was in another seminarian's room reading a paper over his shoulder as he read it sitting at his desk. I finished the page and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, I said, "You can turn the page now; I'm finished with this side."

The seminarian whipped around, looked up at me, and asked, "You're finished already?" "Yes," I answered. "Why?" He replied, "I'm only half-way through the page."

It was then that I finally realized that I read faster than most people. At the same time I also have the uncanny knack to remember what I have read, mostly. In classes, I hear the lecture and basically absorb the material like a sponge. It may take some time to wring it out, but I often can. Most would see this as a great blessing and, indeed, it often is. But at other times it can prove a great burden.

I have always found that, with young people, if you play at their level, as it were, you can lift them up to yours for discussions and teachings. I've always found this to be the case, but what do you do when you lift them too high and leave them frustrated, impatient and confounded?

I seem to have done just this with one of my classes yesterday and today and it pains me greatly.

I'm always trying to remember what I was like in high school, and when I do so I see cearly that my high school days were not like the high school days of today's youth. At the same time, I have to remember that when I was in high school I was not like my classmates.

The circumstances of my life - especially of my childhood - forced me to mature faster than my peers. I found comfort and solace in books and learning, and this remains the same today.

But now that I lifted my students beyond what seems to be their capabilities, how do I lower them back down to where they are comfortable and can learn? How do I so without insulting them or giving them the impression - which they unfortunately seem to already have - that I am better than them simply because I read faster and retain more?

I've spent a good part of the day wrestling with this question and I've not yet found an answer. The planned post on St. Bonvaenture's writing will have to wait untl sometime tomorrow.

In the meantime, please pray for me that I might find the answer that I seek.

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