They are present in the classroom- and expect you to be present too. They challenge you to question what you know and to imagine new possibilities. They don’t need the latest and greatest technological tricks to engage all of the ‘learning styles’... They need to look you in the eyes. To meet you where you are. To bring you to new ways of being and thinking and knowing through asking questions, through listening. Great teachers awaken our spirit and ignite our sense of wonder and curiosity. They teach you to ask ‘Why?’; Why do I think this? Or why do I say that? They expect much, and in turn, I want to give much. Great teachers make time to share their own humanity- they realize that teaching is about more than distilling knowledge- it is about who you are.
I experienced all of this and more from multiple teachers through my theological education– but none more so than Dr. Namsoon Kang. I received my first email from her in August of 2010, just weeks after I had a life threatening cycling crash. Her request for the first day of our impending class, World Religion and Gender, was that we spend time reflecting on a couple questions “Who am I”, and “Is a woman born or made?”. This task itself was intriguing and unique. How was I suppose to answer?
Her first response to my sharing, “I can see that you have a great desire for purity”, was bluntly authentic and reflective of my struggle with contradictions and my perfectionistic tendencies. This direct presence and awareness from the start inspired me to think about the space of a classroom in a new way.
She continued to provide deep insights about more than the subject at hand (though I also learned a great deal about that). I learned the value of organizing my thoughts, of stretching the cannon of English vocabulary, of searching for the deeper questions to peel back to the heart of an issue. I learned about the power of words and knowledge, and the importance of developing a solid foundation of understanding in order to reach new creative spaces. I learned from watching her walk around the classroom to see face-to-face the person who is speaking. I learned from the way she is unafraid to embrace- to give a hug and to be physically in the room. She is innately aware of the needs of each student and meets them where they are.
I learned the most from Dr. Kang’s willingness to make time. To stay after class to answer a question. To set up thirty minutes outside of class to be with me in my struggle to discern my vocational direction (and to love me anyway when I don’t take her advice). To host our Theory Group in order to create space for students longing for more. To ask penetrating and honest questions. To hold a mirror to who we are and who we are struggling to be. This teacher of Post Modern Theology, Feminism, World Religion and Gender, Negative Theology and Derida, Cosmopolitan Theology.... embodies the love of Christ, and has taught me what it actually means to be a ‘Christian’.