Health and Safety at Work in Theological Education

The classroom is a dangerous place for a lecturer, intellectually and emotionally, especially if it is filled with active, thoughtful students. However, the following eight tried and tested rules, if carefully adhered to, should keep you relatively safe.

  1. Keep interaction to a minimum. Best of all, just talk your way through the whole lecture hour and leave no time for tricky questions.
  2. Keep well behind the lectern or at a desk placed a good distance from the students. Do not be tempted to wander out where the students are, leaving your notes behind. Never sit on the desk and talk to them. It is badlands out there.
  3. Use PowerPoint a great deal, preferably with lots of interesting images and videos. It takes the students’ attention off you. Try to get the students to form a relationship with the screen not with yourself.
  4. If challenged by a student, NEVER admit you could be wrong. Keep your perfect image safe, it will deter others from getting involved.
  5. Maintain the whole class time in the academic field only. You have read more books than them so you should be safe enough there. Don’t let the discussion stray into the spiritual life or into ministry practice, where you are more vulnerable.
  6. Be very wary about applying ideas into real life. What do you know of real life? You could get it wrong. Avoid.
  7. Never betray your own thoughts, experiences or feelings to students. Remember you are an academic policeman to them, not a friend. Friends are open and vulnerable; policeman are official and safe.
  8. Once the lecture time is over, get out of there as quickly and smoothly as you can. While you are on the platform, there is a safe distance between you and the students. At the back of the class, in the corridor, at coffee, you get too close for safety. Keep away. If you have to mix and talk, mix with fellow staff members, never students.

Follow these rules carefully and you should be safe in a dangerous environment. Above all, you will not be interesting, and interesting is the last thing a teacher needs to be if he or she is to remain safe at work in theological education.

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2 Comments on “Health and Safety at Work in Theological Education”

  1. perryshaw Says:

    I love it!! What a brilliant commentary Graham. 🙂

  2. PAUL COOKEY Says:

    This sounds more like one who has been a victim of students’ pranks and betrayal. My mentor somehow thinks otherwise. I quote: “Granted the God-related context in which I began to study theology and the divine call that has set me to that task, I have never accepted the notion that theology is a merely academic or theoretical discipline. In every course taken I tested every reading, lecture, and seminar to see how the ideas would hold up in my own life. In seminars I challenged people to speak in terms of their convictions, rather than merely summarize theologians and then criticize them.”

    I think teaching theology in a detached manner just to avoid students’ criticism or wary questions is a betrayal of our commitment to making disciples for Christ. Our conviction need not be our opinions but sharing our love in humility with our students and being faithful examples for them to emulate. Shalom!

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