Saturday, November 18, 2017

Teaching challenges

By Anthony:

One teaching challenge - people forgetting to put their name on an assignment!

Teaching is not always easy, and sometimes it's not the student's fault nor my fault.  Here are some challenges that I faced this last term, especially with the students who were at Berea for their first semester.  Thankfully, despite the challenge, the students worked hard to learn with good attitudes.

1. Language issues constantly slowed the teaching down.  The students came from a variety of areas in the country, each with their own local languages, though most of them speak Kikuyu.  They know Swahili but not as well as they know their tribal languages.  They know English but some students really struggle with it despite it being a requirement for coming to this college.  And I don't know Swahili well enough to help translate much during class (though I'm trying).

I have great compassion for the students, because even after the countless hours I've put into Swahili, it is still hard for me to understand people speaking in Swahili.  But sometimes I felt like I was teaching English classes.  Here are some words the new students had no idea about: martyr, abortion, incest, atheism, ignorance, cannibalism, treason, monk, monastery, celibate, persecution, heresy.  Those aren't the easiest English words for sure, but when you have 30 words like this per class period it slows things down.

2. Sometimes in class discussions, the students did not make clear whether they believed something or if they were just making a comment to hear my reaction.  At times, I've thought students were rejecting the faith based on what they were saying in class.  But then later, I would find out they were just saying what they hear people say in the community, and don't really believe those things themselves.  They are saying them for the sake of learning.  So possibly, I've blogged about some things students have said that might not even be things they really believe.  Things got better after I told them to tell me whether it is their own question or a question that they hear from others.

Me teaching the 2nd years:

3. The students, especially the first year students, lack biblical knowledge.  It was really hard to add church history or theology to their knowledge, when there was very little biblical knowledge to build on.  None of the first years have read the whole Bible.  None of the first years have read the whole New Testament.  My most knowledgeable first year student had read most of Luke, some of Matthew, and some of John.  Not one of them had been reading their Bible every day, but I think that changed with my encouragements.  And honestly, they were very eager to learn, which is all a teacher could ask for.

Some examples of biblical concepts the students didn't know: Who Pontias Pilate is, what is a Jew, what is a Gentile, doctrine of Providence, the Holy of Holies, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Greeks, Samaritans, Priscilla and Aquila, Herod, the difference between "the Church" and a local church, and who Jesus said would be the rock of the Church.  I taught them early church history, so it was hard to find points of connection with things they already knew.

Not only with biblical knowledge, but some of the students were sheltered in general.  It's probably due to poor primary and secondary education, but none of my first year students could name any countries in North Africa besides Egypt, and they really struggled even to name all the countries bordering Kenya.  They also did not seem to know where Asia referred to.  I don't say this so that you will look down on them.  It's not their fault.  I just want you to know how much teaching is needed in East Africa.

4. The students had so many good questions!  This makes teaching a delight actually, but when they had so many good questions it made it really hard to get through the syllabus.  The last term we just finished was especially hard because of Kenya's re-election; Sara and I had to leave the country twice (for the election and the re-election) which caused us to miss a lot of classes.  Sometimes their questions were about tangential issues but they were still critically important because they are the practical things they are thinking about such as curses, dowry, and drinking alcohol.  I'll write more about these discussions in another post.

2nd years in discussion:

5. We found that students quickly forgot things we taught them, or at least they seemed to.  We got the same questions over and over from the same groups of students but in different courses.  Or Sara would cover one difficult question in her class, but then they would also ask me the same question in my class.  That was a bit frustrating, but we also know that it takes most people, including us, several times to hear something before we really get it to stick, transform our lives, and let it inform our other beliefs and actions.

Pray for the students that they would continue to learn a lot and grow in Christ through their other semesters at Berea without us.


  1. I have some teacher friends and I know some of your frustrations are universally shared, however some are clearly unique to teaching cross-culturally. The Timothy Team will pray about this!

  2. Thanks Renee! The teaching is now finished at Berea, but we will be continuing to teach in East Africa, and I will still experience some of these challenges :)