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.
Last this week but certainly not least, we’re happy to introduce Joy Brennan (2015), Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Kenyon College.
CoT-What was your area of focus and year of graduation at the Divinity School?
JB-I graduated in August of 2015 with a degree in philosophy of religions and a focus on Buddhist philosophy.
CoT –What was your most memorable teaching experience while at the Divinity School? Since moving on?
JB-I had the pleasure of teaching in U of C’s humanities core and I most loved teaching Saint Augustine’s Confessions. I am now in my second year teaching at Kenyon College, where I’ve had wonderful teaching experiences too numerous to count. The most recent was this week: I have a great group of students in a special iteration of our department’s introductory course, which is limited in number and for first-years only. For this week we read an autobiography of one twentieth century Japanese Zen monk’s time as a novice monk and then a master teacher. The students carried the discussion so well, and found many of the important Buddhist teachings that were cloaked in the book’s seemingly simple, very readable prose. I was so proud to be their teacher.
CoT–What do you most wish you had learned about teaching while you were still a doctoral student? (and/or) What surprised you the most as a new faculty member?
JB-I wish I had known that I should have been constantly scanning for good readings – books, articles, even things in popular press or on blogs. I see now that at least 50% of building a great class is having the right readings for students: familiar enough that they can engage it, but distant enough that they are challenged and have to push themselves (and be pushed by me) to get it. So now I always feel that there are better readings out there and I am constantly on the hunt for them.
As for most surprised: it still stuns me to see how much trust (most) students put into their teachers. So I work every day to ensure that I am worthy of their trust.
CoT–Briefly describe a course you’ve never taught but would like to.
JB– Religious life writing in East Asia. We would read autobiographies, biographies, hagiographies, maybe poetry of religious figures from East Asian traditions.
CoT–You’ve been bitten by a radioactive _____ and your new superpower of _____ has instantly made you a more effective teacher.
JB–House cat and seeing exactly what it is that students don’t even know that they don’t know.