Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Vulnerability & Trust in the Classroom



Every once in a while, I have the opportunity to teach a full semester's worth of introductory biblical studies materials over a period of fifteen days.  This, January, is one of those once-in-a-whiles.  Which is why I haven't been posting much here.  But I have been listening to my life, thinking, paying attention and the thoughts that follow are just a bit of what I've been noticing.
  
"I don't know."

I said those three scary words at least twice in class the other day.  

From the front of the room.  

As the professor. 

I can’t tell you how alarming that would have been for me when I first started teaching college level classes.  I was fresh from seminary then, wearing the one suit I owned.
 
That suit was – as they often are – something like a suit of armor.  It was a symbol that I was an adult (even though I didn’t feel like one) and that I knew what I was talking about (even though I didn’t feel like I did).  Looking back, I can see how fear-driven my teaching was, even though I didn’t want it to be.  I wanted to connect with the students, to engage, but I was unable to allow the kind of vulnerability that forms community. 

I was too attached to my armor of rayon/polyester and knowledge. I set up every aspect of the class in a way that guaranteed I would know the answers to any question that arose.  I chose the passages we studied based on papers I’d written in graduate school – a sure-fire way (I hoped) of ensuring I would know more about the topic at hand than any one else in the room.

I often wondered why I felt so isolated, lonely, and frustrated as a teacher.

//

This time around, some fourteen years later, I purposely wore jeans on the first day of class.  Mostly, I wanted to feel like myself and, as someone who works from home, I wear jeans almost every day.  Feeling like myself meant drawing on the sense of authority I carry day-in-and day-out as a parent, writer, spiritual director, and middle-aged human being.  Also, I wanted to lessen the distance between the students and myself, and jeans seemed like a concrete, visual way to do that. 

First thing, on the first day, I explained that every class would start with five minutes of silence.  This would be our way of acknowledging the presence of God which dwells - like silence – above, below, and in-between all our words.  After silence, I explained that, because this was their class, the first twenty minutes of every class was theirs to use as they saw fit.  Every student has an opportunity to submit a topic for conversation and we use silly questions to decide who will draw a question out of the stack. 

Those twenty minutes were a little awkward the first day – and still are, sometimes – but we’ve had some laughs, heard some differing perspectives, and even witnessed a little passion.  I like to believe giving the students some time and space up front, is one, small, concrete way of reminding them that this class is for them.  It also gives me an opportunity to observe and eavesdrop on who they are, how they interact with each other, and how they think about the world we live in.  In short, it gives me a chance to listen and builds community.

Finally, before lecture that first day, I explained that we needed to choose a passage to explore together in class the following day.  I gave them a few minutes to think about it, then invited them to offer suggestions.  Many offered favorite, well-known passages, but there were some random ones thrown out too.  I didn’t even flinch (hardly, anyway) when someone tossed out a story I’d never heard of from the apocrypha.  After we had ten or so to choose from, the students voted and chose Jeremiah 29.

I stopped by the library after class and grabbed a couple of commentaries.  That night, I spent about a half hour familiarizing myself with the context and reading through the passage.  Mostly, I figured, we’d figure it out together the following day.  And we did.  
Rather than worrying about the class, I looked forward to it.  I suppose part of this is the confidence that comes from teaching and preaching for years – a gift I’m grateful to have found.  Under-girding my decision, though, was the belief that what would be gained by working together, side-by-side, was more than what might be lost by me not knowing all the answers. 

//

I have a great group of students this semester.  They’re older, and more prepared to handle the course material.  Many are seniors and already thinking about how the things they learn now will apply to life in the ‘real world.’   All of this leads to a more enjoyable class environment.  But the thing I’m most grateful for, is a deeper capacity to be with the students, to create an atmosphere where those three little words, “I don’t know,” are nothing more than a fertile starting point for conversation, exploration and comradery. 


Monday, January 8, 2018

Writers' Retreat: March 3rd 2018



Savor a day focusing on your work and identity as a writer. 

Reconnect with the reasons for your art, the source of your words. 

Network with other writers and gain insight on integrating writing into your everyday life. 

Author, Editor and Writing Teacher, Andi Cumbo-Floyd will lead a retreat for writers of all skill sets.  

When: Saturday, March 3rd 

Time: 9:00 - 4:00

NEW Location: We will be gathering at the Silver Spring Retreat Center in Mechanicsburg, PA.   The center's Historic Waugh-Wilson farm house dates back to the 18th century and offers a blend of gracious space and natural beauty. 

Cost: $60 (as you are able - please contact Kelly if cost is a significant burden) 

20 Spaces Available

Registration deadline: Tuesday, February 27th 

Includes:

     * Two free-writing sessions with prompts

     * Craft-talk on balancing discipline and gentleness   

     * A brief workshop experience giving and receiving feedback
     
     * Homemade lunch
     
     * Opportunities to network and connect with other writers

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a trained Writing Teacher, highly-sought Editor, and author of several self-published books.  Her first traditionally published book is due out May 2018.  Kelly Chripczuk is a Writer, Spiritual Director, and teacher and has self-published two books.  


With a wealth of knowledge and experience, Andi and Kelly excel at creating a retreat space that is safe and enriching for all participants, no matter what your experience, skill level or goals may be.  Our desire is for you to leave the day refreshed and encouraged in your writing life.  

Questions?  Contact Kelly at Chripczuk.Kelly@gmail.com or leave a comment below.


Reserve your spot via Paypal: 


Friday, January 5, 2018

Slow (adjective)


Slow (adjective) : moving or operating, or designed to do so, only at a low speed; not quick or fast. synonyms: unhurried, leisurely, steady, sedate, poky, sluggish

Every year, January 1st brings a wave of declarations and intentions splashing across my facebook page.  I've hardly started purging the house of Christmas clutter and somehow it seems everyone else has already shaken off the dust of the old year and moved headlong into the new.  

In the face of it, I find myself feeling out of pace.  Here I am spinning my wheels while the rest of the world races ahead.  

Pining my slowness earlier this week, I thought of my paternal Grandma.  She never did anything fast, as far as I can remember.  She ate slow, walked slow, talked slow.  She buttered bread slow and somehow managed to make large dinners that were ready right-on-time while working at a snail's pace.  

Recalling her slow ways, I remembered the comfort she gave even in the midst of (or perhaps because of) her predictable slowness.  I remember her lamenting once, during a visit to an Amish farm in Lancaster PA, how she missed the slowness of the old days, how everything was so hurried now, she felt she couldn't keep up.

Remembering my Grandma's slowness, I felt less alone, more able to accept my own, often poky, pace. 

//

Slow isn't sexy.  A poky puppy is cute, but doesn't hold our attention span for long when the rest of the world is racing by.  And, though we offer lip-service to the value of 'slowing down' or embracing an 'unhurried' life, we're quick to defend our productivity lest we somehow be deemed lazy or, worse, slow.  

I guess it's one thing to choose slow.  Another to be slow, by nature.  

//

This morning, while pushing myself to get ahead and make up for my slow, I remembered a conversation my husband had with my mother-in-law when he first told her we were dating.  

His mom asked, among other things, "If she fast?  Can she get things done?" 

It's was a funny question to ask, because my husband lives on the slow side of things as well.  Maybe she thought he needed someone to kick-up the pace and keep things moving along?  

Whatever she had in mind, it was not to be.  My husband answered immediately and with certainty, "No, I've never seen her do anything fast."

Remembering his reply, I smiled, and felt another layer of self-imposed judgement about the pace at which I live, slide off, like an ill-fitting skin.  

//

I think there are a lot of people who miss slow, but most of us feel we can't really afford it.  Here, I guess, is where the slow people (like me) have something to offer.  Hitching along at our leisurely pace we seem to stand out as a symbol that slow is not lost and, what's more, slow is sustainable.  Slow may even be the only sustainable speed in a world committed to fast without pause.  

What struck me most in the online definition of slow quoted above, is the phrase "designed to do so."  Maybe that's what I am - designed to move slowly, to offer steady in a world off-kilter.  I like the way that phrase hints at the intentionality of making something (or someone) slow.  Almost like slow itself has a purpose or is a gift.  

Who needs the gift of your slow today?  What practices help you live more in tune with your own natural pace?