Kissing and theological education

Kissing and theological education

At first sight, these two pleasurable activities do not seem to have anything in common so let me say first what I am not trying to say. The management mantra KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is of little use when you try to apply it to such a complicated task as theological education, except in a very reductionist way. Nor do I wish to fall into the contemporary trap of using sentimental or even romantic language to describe our relationship with God. So, what do I mean?

The Poet Robert Bridges speaks of a kiss as “passion with peace” – and anyone who has had a loved one in their arms knows exactly what he means when he talks of this strange combination of feelings.

Not that we encounter either of these, that often, in the classroom. However together, just as they best describe a good kiss, so they also describe good teaching. Am I pressing the analogy too far? Maybe a little tongue-in-cheek? I don’t think so. They are the two things students recognise quickly and to which they most enthusiastically respond.

Passion for the subject is well documented as a key component of teaching which produces good learning. It makes possible, even inevitable, the interest of the class. And almost always some of the passion for the subject rubs off on the students.

Peace? Yes, certainly. It is the sense that you, the teacher, are there where you should be, at peace with yourself and the students – that you don’t fear the students or their questions but you are peacefully open them. Even that you are having a good time. This is a key pre-condition for student engagement and enjoyment.

If I was to give two fundamental reasons why teaching doesn’t work, they would be a lack of passion for the subject and a lack of peace in the teacher.

Now, all this is a far cry from the crude measurement of the feedback forms we usually use at the end of a module. These assess the quality of our notes, our timekeeping, how comprehensively we cover the subject, our use of visual aids (whether they are useful or an impediment) and so on. They generally miss all the important things which make teaching outstanding – a bit like a kiss reported on afterwards using a feedback form!

In this new year of 2013, maybe we can all look for more “passion with peace” in our lives as well as our teaching.

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