After the Lord turned my heart around again, I sought to teach fulltime at a Christian university. During my adjunct stint at Regent—the same time the Lord spoke to me while driving the car (see last Friday’s post)—one of my students informed me that there was an opening for a history professor at the university where he had just received his undergraduate degree. Since he was impressed with my teaching, he opened the door by contacting the department chair. I applied and got the position. It was only later I learned that there had been approximately one hundred applicants. Truly, this was God providing a way back into what He had in store for me.
The institution was Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana, which was a recently transformed Bible college. My time there coincided with its first rapid expansion into a university. As the “newbie,” I got the daunting assignment of teaching World History, all in one semester. To be sure, the “world” was reduced primarily to Western Civilization. One can barely do justice to that in one semester. IWU was an open-admissions university, so this was my first experience with a roomful of students, many of whom had no idea why they were sitting there, and who also didn’t care to figure out why.
This was also the pre-computer-in-the-classroom era, so my options for getting their attention were more limited than they are today. I hadn’t even plumbed the depths of the overhead projector yet, let alone computer technology. None of the professors had personal computers at that time. I wrote on the board and I talked. Yet, surprisingly perhaps, most of those courses went pretty well. I continued to hone my ability to speak directly to students, not over their heads, and to incorporate a relaxed atmosphere with healthy doses of humor.
Thankfully, I was not limited to that one general education course, but also developed a number of upper-level American history courses. The lesson of keeping notebooks of what I had learned now came to my direct aid. I had notebooks for every course I had taken in my master’s and doctoral work, and used them extensively to create these new courses. One course, though, which was outside American history, was more of a stretch for me. I was tasked with teaching Political and Cultural Geography, which meant providing students with an overview of all the nations of the world and how their cultures and governments have influenced their development. It was in this course that I began to experiment more with visual aids, showing maps and making my first transparencies.
Periodically, on Sunday evenings, I would invite students to our home for Bible study and discussion. I came up with a fancy title for those evenings: The Snyder Institute for Advanced Theological and Governmental Studies. It was fun, and I believe the students enjoyed those hours we spent together.
In my fourth year at IWU, the student body voted me Professor of the Year, an honor that touched me deeply. It seemed to vindicate what the Lord had taught me: inspire students to love learning. Even though I wasn’t doing all that much technologically, apparently the substance of what I taught and, hopefully, the spirit in which I taught it, made the difference. It reinforced my belief that the direct connection between teacher and student is the most essential ingredient in education.
At one point, I was not going to receive another contract for the coming year. The most amazing thing happened: students throughout the university rallied to my side. They formed The Dead Historians Society to try to influence the administration on behalf of my tenure there. I’m not going to spend time on this blog detailing those kinds of problems. I prefer to emphasize the positive. For me, the big positive here was how students had responded overall to the ministry the Lord had given me. It was gratifying. My contract was renewed, but then the Lord opened another door later. A new phase of life was about to begin. That will be the subject of my remembrances tomorrow.