Friday, July 10, 2009

Working Relationships in a Christian Community

by Andy Hanson

One of the most difficult things that many of my university students have to do when they begin student teaching is to establish a positive working relationship with their master teachers. These are the teachers who allow my students to use their classes to gain the teaching experience necessary for them to demonstrate teaching competence.

My students are, almost without exception, intelligent, enthusiastic, and committed. They are also inexperienced and prone to make mistakes both in pedagogy and decisions related to classroom management. As a consequence, master teachers must frequently confront them with their mistakes. It is at this point that positive working relationships are tested.

Since the most important letters of recommendation in personnel files are those from master teachers, my students attempt to conform to the wishes of their master teachers. Most of the time, when my students are asked to jump, they ask how high. But there are times when philosophical differences, and matters of teaching style and personal preference become a serious issue. These are the times when students ask me how they should proceed. Safety seems to lie in simply doing what the master teacher asks, no matter how irrational these requests appear to the student. Confrontation seems dangerous.

Almost without exception, I counsel confrontation. Experience has taught me that working relationships can only be maintained if people talk about their differences, and sooner rather than later. It is much easier to discuss issues rationally and productively before frustration builds to disgust or misunderstanding becomes accusation.

I attempt to convince my students that productive working relationships can only be maintained if differences are aired. And in my experience, when productive working relationships are maintained, differences can be resolved, accepted, or even valued.

In Mathew 18:15-17, Jesus counseled confrontation as the proper way to settle disputes. His followers who confront their theological differences honestly, thoughtfully, and straightforwardly promote healthy spiritual growth within the Christian community and strengthen the bonds of Christian fellowship. These principles are reflected in the following two quotes: the first from Malcolm Hein and the second from Isaac Asimov.

“There is little room left for wisdom when one is full of judgment.”

“It is my philosophy of life that difficulties vanish when faced boldly.”


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