What it Means to Be a Teacher



Tomorrow (May 6th) is National Teachers Day, so it’s a wonderful time to reflect on teaching, especially in my context as a liberal religious educator.  Last week I read Teaching from the Heart: Theology and Educational Method by Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore.   Moore, a professor of Theology and Christian Education, also wrote Teaching as a Sacramental Act (which is on my TBR list, for sure).

Moore’s book stands out among the reading I have done, because it takes both theology and pedagogy (teaching method and theory) seriously and puts them into dialogue with each other.  She raises the point that too often practice and theory are divorced or distant from one another, and that theory in particular is often deaf to the voice of practical experience.  Moore puts one theology (process theology) into dialogue with five different educational methods (case study method, gestalt method, phenomenological method, narrative method, and conscientizing method), and proposes how the theology and the methods would alter each other.

The book, published in 1991, is dated – these aren’t the current “it” theologies or methods – but I think it is still of immense value to the religious educator, placing our work in perspective.  What Moore is really pointing out is that the ordinary, real experience right in front of us can be attended to with care and attention and can influence our entire understanding of everything (our theology). For me, this has always meant that when I work with real people – children, youth, adults – I am open to new understandings of who they are and how they can grow, and that understanding of how to be human is deeply informative to my theology.  I find my truth in the people right in front of me, and in the real experiences I have with them.

That is what it is to be a teacher, seeing the real people in front of you with deep compassion while also seeing the possibilities and holding a passion for growth.  A teacher is a midwife, a supportive building scaffold, and most of all a bridge between the concrete now of experience and the possibility of ideas and future.  In Moore’s words:

The many and various educators share the common vocation of humanization – the vocation of supporting human life and the quality of that life.”

This is the gift of a teacher – to revere the ordinary so much that it becomes extraordinarily ordinary.”  


In many ways, everyone is a teacher, whether they mean to be or not.  We cannot help but influence one another, and be influenced in return.  But for those who consciously choose this vocation, may it always be a work of the heart.


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