Cobber Superlatives: Reflections On My First Year Teaching

Faculty line up to congratulate the 2013 graduates of Concordia College.

The Concordia College class of 2013 graduated this afternoon. It was an honor to attend the ceremony (even squished in the faculty seating trying not sneeze and share my spring cold with my colleagues). With the 2012-13 school year now in the books, here are some quick reflections from my first year as a professor. I’ll take Rachel Held Evan’s lead and put them in superlatives form, with the caveat they’re all a bit off-the-cuff.

Biggest surprise: how fast the 70 minutes of class flew by each MWF.

Best book: my Faith and Leadership class read many books (and selections), both together and on individual assignments. Judging from reading reflection papers, however, best book accolades go to Ellie Roscher’s, How Coffee Saved My Life (Chalice, 2009). As one student put it, “I mean, it didn’t even feel like it was fair to read this for class—I enjoyed it way too much.”

Best support: my colleagues in the religion department have been super-supportive of the launch of the Faith and Leadership Concentration in the Religion Major. At every juncture along the approval process and now into its initial implementation, I could not have asked for better support in word and deed.

Biggest news going forward: I’m starting, part-time, a PhD program at North Dakota State University in English: Rhetoric, Writing and Culture. I look forward to exploring a range of research interests, but particularly those in religious rhetoric and new media.

Most dependable lunch buddy: Andrew Lindner, Sociology, whom I can always count on for just the right blend of encouragement and cynicism.

Favorite Faith and Leadership moment: Most classes begin with a F.L. Moment during which we discuss a current event in faith and leadership. My favorite, perhaps, was watching, then discussing, Maclemore’s “Same Love.”

Biggest pedagogical question: What’s the best way for students to engage class readings in discussions? This semester I had students post discussion questions once a week to an online discussion board. I then curated these into a one-page document, and I led class discussions on them. If I stick with this format going forward, I wonder how to encourage more penetrating questions. If I change to having a student discussion leader each class, I wonder how to support that student.

Most nerve-wracking: Planning and leading the first annual, best ever “Who BREWs Best” event. (Close second: driving the Justice Journey 15 passenger van back from Minneapolis to Fargo in the wee hours of the morning, in winter.)

Best opportunity to connect with students: Traveling as the faculty advisor on a Justice Journey to Lantern Hill in Ensenada, Mexico.

Biggest head scratcher: Why is the academy, even as we say/hope/are pushed otherwise, so stuck in our own areas and averse to cross-disciplinary work?

Most exciting partnership developing: Work with Dan Lee and others at Lutheran World Relief to plan a Justice Journey to Nicaragua for students next May.

Most mentioned strategic plan: Concordia College’s, Whole Self, Whole Life, Whole World, of course.

Best Maize meal: Anything with potato wedges.

Least second-guessed decision: Asking students to call me “Adam.” “Professor Copeland” works OK, but it doesn’t quite fit perfectly. I never regretted “Adam.”

Biggest adjustment: Having a job with colleagues, an office to go to, and institutional support, rather than working from home and calling all my own shots as with The Project F-M.

Best advice taken: A former professor of mine encouraged me to set aside at least one day in my calendar each week for writing. With a few exceptions, I was able to do that this year and I so appreciated the practice. I hope to expand to 1.5 days next year.

Proudest moment: Seeing my students leave campus to, as our mission statement says, “influence the affairs of the world.”

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