The Student Becomes the Teacher

Written by Brandon O'Brien on August 20th, 2013

Today I begin teaching a class that I took as a student—in this very same classroom—thirteen years ago. There’s something surreal about this situation, and I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on what it is exactly. But I’ve figured it out.

It’s not my first time to teach a college class. I’ve been doing my best to mold impressionable young minds for the last three years at a community college in Chicagoland. I’m more or less over the first-day jitters. It is my first time to teach as a PhD. And you can bet your sweet bippy I’ll insist on being called “Dr. O’Brien.” But that’s not it either.

What strikes me is that when I entered this classroom thirteen years ago, my primary responsibility was to ask questions. Today these kids expect me to have answers. Then my job was to deconstruct misperceptions, challenge inherited interpretations, question everything. (It’s like the French Revolution, south Arkansas edition.) And, sure, an important part of what I’ll do this semester is ask students to follow me into new territory as we leave behind misinterpretations and misinformation. But my goal is constructive, not destructive. Thirteen years ago I questioned everything with very little caution for where I might end up. Hopefully this semester, as I pass through this course a second time, my questions will to dry land.

I guess what I mean is that this time around I’m accountable to thirty-something young Christians who trust me to be responsible with their faith (and whose parents are praying that I’ll be responsible with their faith). I don’t have the luxury of pondering and speculating out loud, consequences be damned.

Make no mistake—I’ll ask hard questions. And I sure hope they do too. (I love questions!) I’m eager to push them and pull them and, if need be, drag them through this sixteen-week survey of the Bible. But I’m humbled by the weight of what’s going on in these discussions.

So this is what it’s like to be a grown up?


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