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August, 2019

Training Theologians to Teach


By Catherine Lee


Associate Professor William Loewe (right) looks over course evaluations at a session with Kelly Iverson (left) and Sherri Brown.
At a training session last month, Kelly Iverson and Sherri Brown, teaching fellows in the School of Theology and Religious Studies, discussed with Associate Professor William Loewe the merits of class evaluations they had given their students the week before.


Iverson described for Loewe, his mentor, the positive responses he’d received from the students in his undergraduate Introduction to Christianity course. Brown noted she had given her class the option of signing the evaluation. Both agreed the evaluation was a useful teaching tool.


Brown and Iverson, who are finishing up their doctoral dissertations in biblical studies at CUA, are part of a new theology and religious studies program that provides hands-on training for graduate students in classroom teaching. The Training Doctoral Students to Teach program is funded by a $70,000 grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religious Studies located in Crawfordsville, Ind.


The three-year grant, which the theology and religious studies school received in August, provides lunch and training sessions for graduate students and professors who are serving as mentors. The recent session in Caldwell Hall’s Monsignor Stephen P. Happel Room was the third so far this semester. The next one is scheduled for Nov. 29. Over the course of the year, professors and graduate students will get together eight times.


At earlier sessions this semester the participants had tackled the issues of grading and handling different points of view in the classroom. The discussions are designed to cover topics that don’t come up normally in the pursuit of a doctorate, said Cynthia Crysdale, CUA associate professor and associate dean for undergraduate studies.


“We’ve always prepared our graduate students to be wonderful scholars,” said Crysdale, “and we’ve always been attentive to their role in the classroom. But this program allows us to take a more intentional approach to preparing them as teachers.” 


The program started taking shape last fall when Crysdale and senior teaching fellow Ridgeway Addison attended a Wabash Center conference on ways to better prepare graduate students as teachers.


(Of CUA’s 150 theology graduate students, seven or eight are employed as teaching fellows and 16 or 17 as teaching assistants each semester. Teaching fellows are close to finishing their doctorates; teaching assistants are just beginning their graduate studies. Fellows actually teach courses while assistants help professors with many of the other tasks that accompany teaching: taking attendance, grading papers, recording grades and leading discussion groups. Teaching assistants have the chance to lecture in an occasional class.)


Associate Dean Cynthia Crysdale talks about classroom techniques at the training session for graduate students and their mentors.

Following the Wabash conference, Crysdale received a small grant from the center, which allowed her to organize a committee that began to explore how training could be implemented at CUA’s theology and religious studies school.


The committee held a couple of town meetings for faculty members and graduate students to discuss their expectations for the training program. One of the committee members was Alan Goodman, director of career services at CUA, who suggested ways that the school could better prepare graduate students for the job market.


As a result of those early discussions, said Crysdale, one of her goals this year is to provide graduate students with access to information about teaching positions at other Washington, D.C., area colleges and universities.


At the recent lunch and training session, teaching fellows Brown and Iverson also swapped ideas about the best way to conduct a class. Brown, who’s teaching the undergraduate course Introduction to the Old Testament, sometimes calls on students to read parts of the Bible aloud; occasionally Iverson will break the class into small groups to spark discussion.   


Brown jokingly described herself as “an orphan” that day because her mentor, Rev. Francis Moloney, S.D.B., the Katharine Drexel Professor of Religious Studies, wasn’t able to attend the session.


In closing the session, senior teaching fellow Addison, who organizes the sessions and puts out a program newsletter, said that if graduate students occasionally become overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching they can take solace in the oft-quoted words of American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:


“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


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Last Revised 02-Nov-05 04:32 PM.