Professors need a little help

For's IV-060825.

This week we bring you Jon Boyd, a guy who apparently likes to have a lot on his plate! His main line of work is being the Associate Director of InterVarsity’s Graduate and Faculty Ministries. But this fall he’ll also be teaching a class at North Park University in Chicago. And there is even more he has going on. We’re wondering how he’s feeling as a new faculty person. Jon, we hear you’re about to enter the university world in a new way as a teacher. What’s up? And how do you feel? Are you nervous? Excited?

Jon: These days, my wife, Ann, and I live near North Park University in Chicago, so when a historian friend of mine gave me the chance to teach a U.S. history course while he’s on sabbatical, I jumped at the chance.

It’s been over 10 years since I taught in a university setting, so I’d be stupid not to be a bit nervous! But mostly I’m really excited. The course is in U.S. intellectual history, which is my specialty, so I find I really get a buzz out of plunging back into the thick of things. Thinking about how to share with my students the enjoyment and excitement I find in thinking historically — that’s been a blast as I prepare. What’s it going to be like getting used to a new position at a new campus?

Jon: I suppose you’d really have to ask me once the fall semester has actually started — but you’ve got it right: “new” is the word. North Park is a different kind of school from any I’ve ever been at. I was an undergrad at Michigan, obviously a much larger school and not a Christian one. I’m sure I’ll make a fool of myself plenty of times as I get used to the different context. I might as well admit it up front. Once the semester hits, how do you hope your North Park students will treat you?

Jon: With mercy! But actually, I hope they’ll come into the course ready to have some fun while learning new stuff. Frankly, there’s precious little reason to be a history major if you’re not going to have fun doing it, and the fun of digging into the past has always been a big part of my motivation as an historian.

And I hope they won’t have any negative attitudes towards being smart (like our culture so often breeds) — because I hope it’s going to be fun to be smart in this course. That’s especially true since there are so many different ways to be smart, and I’ll be watching for them all. Christians owe it to the Lord to love him “with all our minds” (Mark 12:30) — and love is fun and exciting and powerful, everything good actually.

Maybe I’ve gotten away from your question a little. How do I hope they’ll treat me? Probably most importantly is “with honesty.” If we can have a real meeting of the minds and be honest with one another, the course will be awesome. History is about people after all, and the people who study it have to bring themselves into it, not their masks or fears or assumed identities. As you look forward to teaching — with new empathy for other professors, I’m sure — what would you say to students about how they can care for faculty on campus? Do you think it ever enters their minds?

Jon: Naturally enough, most students figure faculty are the big dogs on campus and don’t need much looking after. But that’s not the case. Most university teachers don’t have much job security, many of them have to move from state to state every couple of years, and they’re almost always under tremendous time and work pressure. This kind of nomadic life and busyness can really take its toll on professors’ lives.

One of the best things students can do is to pray for their professors (and not just about their professors). Of course, that’s not a a new form of brown-nosing to try, but if done sincerely, it could be very powerful to let them know that you’re praying and ask them if there’s anything you can pray about in particular. If your professor isn’t a believer, you have to handle this tactfully, but most faculty would be blown away by a student’s showing sincere interest and saying they were praying for them.

Otherwise, it’s important to remember that professors almost always get tremendous joy out of students who genuinely engage the material. If you want to be a blessing to your professors (not to mention to yourself!), throw yourself into your studies as if Jesus himself were teaching the course (Colossians 3:23).