This year we’re introducing some changes to the blog. We have invited five recent University of Chicago Divinity School alumni to engage with this year’s Craft of Teaching programming and contribute their insights from the experience of being a new faculty member. We’re excited to roll out this initiative by introducing a new member of the alumni blogger cohort each day this week.
First up is Rick Elgendy (2014), Visiting Professor of Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary.
CoT–What was your area of focus and year of graduation at the Divinity School?
RE-Theology, specializing in public theology, systematic theology, and social ethics. I graduated in August, 2014.
CoT–What was your most memorable teaching experience while at the Divinity School? Since moving on?
RE– My most memorable moment was the debacle of my first stand-alone class at a local liberal arts college: I was nervous, sweaty, and delivered an hour-long lecture on modern Western philosophy – culminating in Hegel – that sailed well over the heads of my unsuspecting 20-year-old students. With some good will and patience on their part and a renewed sense of context and audience in teaching on my part, we salvaged that course; I think it was a success in the end, and the students agreed. But, ever since that painful night, I’ve been returning to that lesson: how to enable students to take the next steps in their understanding of Christian conviction and action by paying attention to who and where they are in life and in their education.
CoT–What do you most wish you had learned about teaching while you were still a doctoral student? What surprised you the most as a new faculty member?
RE–I learned so much about teaching in the doctoral program at the Divinity School, thanks to both the Craft of Teaching program and the Chicago Center for Teaching. But even with all that training, I was very surprised to find that many in my first few courses’ worth of students found our material prohibitively abstract. It was not just that the concepts were complex or obscure, but that the enterprise of philosophy of religion and ethics represented a way of thinking that was so unfamiliar to them: they didn’t know how to formulate questions about what they were reading, what the objectives of the authors were, or what the significance of our material was. And this reminded me, of course, that I was once in their shoes: thinking through norms, or metaphysics, or many of our other subjects, are skills that we all acquire with time and effort. Effective teaching in our disciplines requires making clear the stakes, evidence, assumptions, and implications involved in an argument in ways that students can find meaningful and – one hopes! – exciting.
CoT–Briefly describe a course you’ve never taught but would like to.
RE–My postdoctoral fellowship has enabled me to teach electives of my own choosing for four straight semesters now, which has been a great joy: I’ve taught courses ranging from Christology and soteriology in our systematics area to Public Theology and Church and State in ethics. The last course that has always been on my wish list is something I have (tentatively) planned for our spring semester: “Love, Desire, and God.” The readings in that course will give us an occasion to consider the interconnections between love of God and love of human others; the transformative possibilities and perils of desire; experiences of loves and desires and what they can teach us about God; and our entanglement in social and political orders of desire, relationship, and gender.
CoT–You’ve been bitten by a radioactive _____ and your new superpower of _____ has instantly made you a more effective teacher.
RE–Radioactive pencil – superpower of writing legibly on a chalkboard. As it is, if I foresee any need for visual elements in a lecture or want to focus on terms or quotations, I bring in PowerPoint to spare my students the torturous effort of trying to decipher my handwriting. Surely I have other shortcomings as a teacher, but that’s my most persistent frustration.