Graduate Theological Union

Wabash Graduate Programs Teaching Initiative

by Arthur Holder, Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs (taken from April 2011 Dean's Newsletter)

How well does the GTU prepare doctoral students to teach? And how can we do a better job? Those were the questions that we asked ten alums from five years ago who recently came back to Berkeley for a consultation sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion as part of their Graduate Programs Teaching Initiative.

Working under the masterful direction of Dean of Students Maureen Maloney, the design team for the consultation included professors Deena Aranoff (Center for Jewish Studies) and Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski (Church Divinity School of the Pacific) along with Associate Dean for Admissions Kathleen Kook and myself. With the help of our Wabash Center consultants, the group of graduates gathered to reminiscence, reflect, and share insights (and some “stories from the trenches”) about their teaching experience.

The members of this stellar group of graduates are teaching in many different contexts, from small liberal arts colleges to seminaries to large public universities. Reflecting the ecumenical, interreligious, and interdisciplinary character of the GTU, we heard from a Baptist teaching at a Presbyterian seminary, a Jew teaching in the theology department of a Jesuit university, and a male professor of Religious Studies with a joint appointment in Women’s and Gender Studies.

Besides teaching courses and writing books and articles, many of these graduates have taken on administrative leadership as directors of centers and programs, department chairs, and officers in professional scholarly organizations.

So what did we learn from them about teacher preparation at the GTU? Some good things to celebrate: the importance of faculty as mentors and role models, the value of teaching assistantships and Newhall fellowships, and enthusiastic appreciation for Judith Berling’s renowned seminar on course design. Other things we need to work on: encouraging more students to take advantage of the option to teach a course as a form of comprehensive exam, developing our relationships with Bay Area colleges and universities who need TA’s and adjunct instructors, reminding doctoral program areas that area meetings can provide significant opportunities for professional development.

Along with this helpful feedback, the Wabash consultation gave us a sense of what you might call some “signature traits” of our GTU doctoral alums. They are entrepreneurs who have learned how to present their professional qualifications, envision innovative programs, and write successful grant proposals. They are caring teachers who love their students and attend to each student’s individual background and aspirations. And they are skilled readers of institutional cultures who know how to adapt their teaching style to fit with a school’s particular mission and context. As we like to say, they are rigorous thinkers and passionate doers.

These graduates—and dozens more like them—make me proud to be part of the GTU!

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