Friday, 20 November 2009

What My Students Think of Us

Sze Zeng blogs about his experience in Trinity Theological College after the end of his first semester there. He shares from three different perspectives as embedded in TTC's ethos of training: intellectual inquiry, spiritual formation and vocational training. Since I am not part of TTC's community, I don't think I am in a position to comment or respond to Sze Zeng. But I could certainly empathise with him on some of the issues he raised.

Closer to home, we also hear of our own students' lament about their seminary experience. The following is what one of our seminary students posted about his rather negative reflection about us as lecturers in one of his blogposts. Is this a case of unmet expectations of the student (whether these are realistic or not is a separate isssue), or we, as lecturers, are simply incompetent or 'beyond redemption'?

Lecturers: In many ways, being more competent than me, they have always challenged me to be ready to be a competent full time pastor. Unfortunately, I realised some of them just talked only ...they are good academically, not really that pastorally(not being patience by walking alongside with the students). On the other hand, some are really pastoral but not academically competent (do not update their information on their disciplines- they still use the 1990s materials for their lecture). Some even preached and don't practice what they preached. Sometimes, their preachings are bad model eg. Generally, most of them are busy and difficult to spend times with us or to nurture us personally. I pity those students in Chinese department where they have to bear the incompetencies of the lecturers who were neither pastoral nor academic. Well comparing to the Westerners, perhaps, at least Malaysian lecturers would try to be friends with us and are more compassionate towards us. These are the mixture of the characteristics of the lecturers there that make me as a student, need to be patient with and be challenged to pray for.

Another student blogs about his learning experience after one year in seminary. This is what he says:

Things that I have learned in lecture is (sic) very dry, spiritually dry, because it is just knowledge....I realised that when I understood something, it doesn't makes (sic) my relationship with God become more intimate.

Incidentally, Sze Zeng does have some good things to say about TTC lecturers - something that is missing from my students. Some food for thought for us as lecturers.

35 comments:

Sivin Kit said...

expectations oh expectations.

They sound like someone who just got married sometimes :-)

I'm happy to chat with any of the students, if it helps.

I had a pretty good time in STM. But then again it could have been the energy from the potato chips I consume. Always makes me smile!

Von Rad 文纳 said...

interesting and candid comments...

I wont have the courage to post that, if I were STM student...

sp lim said...

I'm sure there are students who have good things to say about STM or their lecturers. Just that they don't blog about it.

Just made me think that sometimes it's important to compliment and affirm people. Something which I don't find it easy to do. I think my staff would agree.

Certainly some food for thought but don't get discouraged.

Lee Chee Keat said...

Sorry, for my overly negative comments on STM if I have discouraged many lecturers there. I think that's the honest opinion I can give from my angle of my experiences in STM. WEll, maybe I should be one one day to understand better. I think there are also positive things you all did as well which I have mentioned.

yourshoeah said...

I have always appreciated Chee Keat's brutal honesty. I think the lecturers do well in trying to 'manage expectations' (Sivin, 09), but alot of what was said in the Community Life Meeting is essentially the same. The students are crying out for fathers, not just teachers.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Sivin,
I like your marriage analogy.

I had pretty good time in my seminary days, despite the fact that I could never seem to meet my professors as every meeting has to have prior appointment. Maybe I don't expect my professors to play the role of a pastor to me.

Kar Yong said...

Von Rad,
We believe in freedom of speech :-)

Kar Yong said...

Hi SP,
I don't think I am discouraged by the students' remark. I think the issue here is deeper - why would seminary students expect mentoring, pastoring from the lecturers? Does this mean that the church has failed at large to mentor, pastor and counsel them prior to them coming to seminary?

Kar Yong said...

Chee Keat,
I don't think I have any issue here. Like I mention in my reply to SP, could there be deeper issues prior to a student coming to seminary that I am thinking of? Could there be bigger issues with the Christian community at large?

Take my case as an example - I have to work both in the seminary and the church - that's simply because STM asks my church for a large chuck of support for my salary in STM. As a result, my church requires that I also work over the weekends in the church. Now, if STM can pay all my salary without getting any support from my church, then I could be free to give more time to the students, without having to work in church over the weekends.

So what then could be the root to this issue? Lecturers not willing to spend more time with students? or churches not willing to give more financial support to the seminary?

So, perhaps when you pastor a church in future, you might be in a better position to pursuade the church to give more financial support to STM so that more lecturers need not have to shoulder two jobs at one time. Then perhaps by then, we are able to devout more time to the students. Until then, I simply don't see any way out, as far as my case is concerned.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Yourshoeah,

I know students are crying out for fathers - but why point the finger solely at the seminary? What about the church? Shouldn't the students been mentored by their pastors/leaders before they come into the seminary?

Like I say, could this be a reflection of a deeper issue confronting the church at large, not just an issue with the seminary or lecturers?

The Hedonese said...

perhaps another angle at this topic is also how we relate theology to this thing called 'relationship with God'...

it is quite common to think of more devotional materials as helpful in our relationship w God and tomes of small print theological treatises that require rigorous mental exertion dun fit the bill...

if thats the case, i think one of the major challenges of educators is to help students draw nourishment and application (not to be left to the last few minutes of lecture, but be an integral part of it) from what they study.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Dave,
I thk the major problem is that we tend to have this dichotomy between scholarship/academic studies and devotional reflections. As such, what is academic is knowledge and dry, and we forget that knowledge is also crucial for us in knowing and loving God.

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is also prevalent among lecturers in seminaries as well. One senior lecturer in a local seminary, after hearing that I am going to write my second book, told me this: "Don't write anymore academic books, go and do ministry." Now who says writing an academic book is NOT a ministry by itself?

sp lim said...

Do you think by having a full-time chaplain/pastor in STM will help?

Maybe we tend to assume that those who step into a seminary are already spiritually matured and don't really need much pastoral care. After all they are going to become pastors themselves.

When I come to STM for TEE courses and looked at some of the students, they looked so young. (Maybe I'm getting old).I'm not looking down on their youthfulness. In fact, I admire them for having the courage to serve the Lord full-time in their youth. It's really a complex world out there. Maybe it's me who don't have enough faith.

Indeed there is much to ponder over.

Kar Yong said...

Hi SP,
We did have a chaplain before, but it does not seem to work.

I think for any mentoring to work, both parties must be willing. For example, when students accuse the lecturers for not being pastoral, what do they mean? Is this based on perception, or hear-say, or real truth? Have they tried approaching the lecturers, asking the lecturers to mentor and pastor them? Which lecturers, when being approached, turn the students away? Which lecturers, when approached for prayers support, turn the students away?

Even if there is a chaplain, would the students approach this person? That would depend on whether the person is comfortable with the chaplain. All I am trying to say here is that for any pastoral or mentoring to take place, group dynamics between these two parties need to be there, else, it will simply not work.
I think the students have an equal role to play here.

Paul Long said...

Personally my experience when I was in seminary was both positive and negative. A number of lecturers and staff have left some permanent scars in my life (wounds healed but scars show) and some of them did not even teach me!!! LOL

But I still gained a lot. Some lecturers may not have been so good academically but I was blessed by their pastoral gifts. Others who were lousy pastorally, I benefited much from their academic abilities.

But now that I am older and have gained a lot more post seminary knowledge and experience, I believe that for most of my negative experiences, it has been due to my having too high expectations.

Every lecturer has different gifts and strengths and with them corresponding lack of gifts and non strengths. They have time and energy limitations and a myriad of other commitments. They often can't be to us what we want them to be. Just as we are growing and maturing each day through new knowledge and experiences (and mistakes), the same is happening in the lives of the lecturers. It is not as if they are totally mature from day one of becoming a seminary lecturer. There is only one perfect person - Jesus Christ :-)

Funny thing is that from hindsight, if I myself had been more mature when i was a student, I would have enjoyed my studies more. I would have let certain lecturers' quirks just slide of me like water on a duck's back rather than get too worked up about them.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for your candid sharing. Really appreciate it - it's a sharing that reflects the maturity of the person that can only come by both experience and age (haha)!

For me, when I had my seminary education, I went with hardly expecation from the lecturers - maybe it was in a different context in the US - hence no expectation from me. I was able to enjoy my time there. Again, when I did my PhD, I really enjoyed it and had good time with the faculty and staff of the department (of course there were terrible times as well). I guess much of it depends on individuals.

Von Rad 文纳 said...

thanks KY for giving me freedom of speech,,,,


some ppl want freedom of speech but deprive others of that by blocking others comments,,,,

some ppl criticise lecturers but one day they themselves become lecturer, behave even worst....

I am too , old enough to tell,,,

Desmond said...

Personally, I have my good times and bad times in seminary.

When I was in my first year, I was to over-dependent on lecturers (due to my impression that seminary should be a heaven, instead of hell)...To be honest, I was devastated...I had bad feelings against quite a number of lecturers..

Subsequently, when I started to understand their limitations...started to understand lecturers are human, prone to do mistakes and deem to have weakness. I begin to accept lecturers as my friends...

Of course I need to go through sort of healing process (making apologies with one another)...

After that, I started to enjoy my time in seminary...

Thank you to my dear teacher and pastor, Rev. Dr. Lim Kar Yong for your endless support and encouragement...

When people lost their faith in me, you continues to stand by me and re-affirm me...

Sze Zeng said...

Hi KY,

You wrote: Like I say, could this be a reflection of a deeper issue confronting the church at large, not just an issue with the seminary or lecturers?

I believe we share the same diagnosis of the problem. The seminaries' relation with the supporting/governing churches need to be included in this sort of discussion and reflection. On another hand, the church at large need to confront such 'deeper issue'. As how both of us understand this, the seminaries are not a vacuum institution. Their problems as well as wellbeing are located within a larger reality.

Lee Chee Keat said...

Hmm..now trying to understand the lecturers' sentiments. I wonder how did the part time lecturer, SK won the students' heart during the period of 2006-2007 although it was shortlived. Is there any churches in M'sia that have the policy that pay salaries to the lecturer in seminary? Looks like at the moment, it's best to look for mentoring in our local churches rather than expecting it from our lecturers.

anthony said...

chee keat, sorry to jump in and cut you short here. SK's experience is not the norm. if you have a guy that is single and without other commitments like family and church, one can equally be able to spend the time with students. but not everyone in stm has that luxury. thaterefore, it is not a fair comparison to use. pick another model of a person equally with church and family commitments.

on the other hand, if you call that type of experience nurturing, it is equally debatable and i beg to differ. the lecturer concentrated his time and energy only on a seelct few. that is very selective. how would the others feel if they are not 'selected' by that lecturer to be part of the inner circle? would one feel sidelined? there is a lot of subjectivity and biasness involved whenever one picks an inner core of disciples. it means excluding others outside. imo, i don't think that is good.

which is why even though i want to select 12 disciples to train and mentor, it must not mean that i forget the rest. unfortunatley, in stm, that means at least 120 other students and in my own e.g. not including english TEE students from 3 centers. that is the constant danger involved in any disciple-making process. how do you draw the line? it would be nice if i happened to be in the select group buy if i am not?

here is where we have our pastoral/tutorial groups in stm. the few students chosen by the dean of students and assigned to each lecturer are part of that team for a year. we got to learn to use this process to grow ourselves. from my 12 years in stm, the tutorial group process works. of course, it takes a lot of factors to make the group ticks. but when it does, you have the nurturing process taking place not just between tutor and student but student and student. how different is that from the 1st model? in the first, the lecturer goes and select those he/she wants to mentor. selection is biased. from the 2nd model, the dean of students tries to balance each group with a mixture of 1st year to 4th year students, from local to international students, from anglicans to methodists to lutherans to others etc. that cuts out the biasness of the lecturers. and it mean we got to work with what we are given!!that is more tough but thta si more fair.

coming back to your reference to that lecturer, if you do not know the whole story involved, i can understand why you are naived here. that model eventually failed too with fall-outs and accusations etc. i don't think we should ever implement that type of model in stm as it will bring division, biasness and unfairness.

use our tutorial system instead. it is a proven method elewhere in the whole world, especially in all-nations college UK.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Desmond,
Thanks for your sharing - and also thank you for your affirmation. I quite agree with you - whether we enjoy our time in seminary or not, this will largely depend on us, and not the college or the lecturers. You can have the best faculty in the world, but it could be the most miserable experience for the student.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Sze Zeng,
I agree with you that we share the same sentiments. And this is what I have always tried to make my students understand - the seminary does not exist in a vacuum. It is not a dumping place for a church to discipline, mentor, nurture and disciple a church member. Neither can the church nor seminary exists without one another. I suspect that some of us may think that a seminary is like a pre-fabricated production factory where, after a period of 3 to 4 years in the "production line", is able to churn out a pastor that is mentored, discipled, nurtured, able to preach, able to counsel, and able to pastor. If anything goes wrong with this "product", just blame the quality control (read: the faculty).

Kar Yong said...

Chee Keat,

I think you completely missed my point here by saying that "Looks like at the moment, it's best to look for mentoring in our local churches rather than expecting it from our lecturers." You seems to swing from one extreme to another. I believe all of us as lecturers are more than willing to mentor - but have you done your part here by approaching the lecturers? As I have said, mentoring process is more complicated that what you seem to perceive. It takes 2 parties to ensure a successful mentoring relationship.

As for the part-time lecturer you mentioned, I don't think I need to say anything more - Rabbi has already said what needs to be explained. All I can say is that I would agree with Rabbi concerning your naive comments if you do not have the full story of the issue.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Anthony,
Thanks for the input, and also your comments on the model adopted by the part-time lecturer referred to by Chee Keat.

Lee Chee Keat said...

Sorry for my naivity about SK as I do not know the full story. I am based on the previous students who commented him the positive things he did in the seminary despite his fall in the end. I also can feel the negative effects of his influence on students last year too because of his fall. In terms of influencing, I felt he did a pretty good job if not of his fall (although it may not be the best according to AL). My conclusion as to why I think it is better to look for a mentor outside at the moment rather than expect from the seminary is to respect the lecturers' time, family and health. Mentoring demands time and availability. Since the demands of lecturers are at stake which limits their time and availabity due to the Malaysian churches' mentality, it's better off for me to lower down my expectation from the lecturers on this area. Yes, I totally agree it takes two hands to clap. But I felt it also takes a leader to initiate first to set an eg. to lead in this area as students are still dull, blur, naive and prone to make mistakes.

Desmond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Desmond said...

Hi, just a reflection from what Chee Keat's last comment.

He concluded by saying a leader should takes initiative first eg. those students who are still dull...

1) Is it a lecturer duty to be a leader in the seminary? If yes, I would agree that they should takes initiative. If not, who is going to initiate it? I believe back to the students who need to make the initiative.

2) Why churches are sending student who are still dull, blur, naive and prone to mistakes to the seminary? Indeed, seminary is quite a good place to nurture and mould someone's character. But it still needs both parties (faculty and students). If seminaries failed in moulding students, they are to be blame, I believe this is unfair judgment to seminary.

Well, this is personal reflection....

Paul Long said...

Just a little bit more "chilli" to the mix :-) BTW I am not thinking of STM or any seminary in particular nor any student ...

I am of the opinion that one key factor that needs to be considered is that the expectations of the students need to be realistically related to what a particular seminary "advertises" and the kind of course the student enrolls in.

By this I mean if for example, a seminary advertises stuff like "holistic training", strong community, mentoring etc then it is fair to expect the seminary to take the initiative. to provide what is "promised". If it cannot then the seminary board needs to bear a big part of the responsibility if the lecturers cannot provide this.

Also, for example if a student takes a course that seeks to produce theologians / academicians (as opposed to pastors), then it is unfair to expect the seminary to provide a pastoral mentor because that is not what he / she signed up for.

It makes little sense to me for example to sign up for an MTh to be trained to be a pastor and bemoan that the course and lecturers are not pastoral enough. If I were to sign up for an MTh, I think I would need to be matured enough as a Christian leader to not expect the seminary to provide for my primary pastoral / mentoring needs.

But if I were in a course that is supposed to help train me as an inexperienced younger person to be a pastor then I would expect the seminary to help me with pastoral mentors and examples. But surely not if I were an older person in an MDiv programme . Cheers ...

think
Of course this is the ideal.

Lee Chee Keat said...

Ok...I think Paul Long has a very fair comment. Thanks Paul Long.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for your comemnts. For STM, like what Anthony said, we do have the pastoral group system in place for small group nurturing and mentoring (whether it works or not is a separate issue). That's the seminary and lecturers' initiative. But if students feel this is not sufficient, and requires more help, then I think the student concerned needs to take the initiative.

Kar Yong said...

Dear Chee Keat,
Like what Anthony has clearly stated, we do have our pastoral group system in place - that's is the initiative taken by the seminary and faculty. All these years, you would have been palced in one of the groups for weekly meetings. This group functions as your support group and also your mentoring group. Whether this works, it is a separate issue.

However, if you feel the pastoral group is not functioning to your expectation, or that you require a more personal mentoring and help, then I think you need to take the initiative - just like what you have suggested, you would like to look outside the seminary for mentioring. I don't think it is fair to say that the faculty is NOT mentoring or nurtuting the students, or that we DO NOT take initiative or set good example. You too have a part to play.

Hence, my question to you is this: Have you taken been responsible to yourself by approaching any lecturers to mentor you? Have you made known to the lecturers the specific areas that you need help ? If you have not, how would any lecturers know?

If you have not done any of these, I don't think it is fair that you point a finger at the faculty for failing to mentor or nurture you, or for not taking any initiative at all.

Let's also face this - you also have a criteria that you look for in a mentor, and this would mean that not all stm lecturers would fit the bill. Imagine this scenario, I approach you by voluntering myself to mentor you - but let's just say that I am not the kind of mentor you are looking for. So would this relationship work? So here, I as a lecturer have done my part - but does it still work? Don't you think you still have a role to play to approach a lecturer that you would him or her to mentor you?

Paul Long said...

no "chilli" this time but a bit of "dessert" as it is a bit off tangent :-)

I personally think the pastoral group mentoring model is in many ways better than the often promoted one on one mentor model.

I am honored that there are some who openly state that I am their mentor or ask me to mentor them but I am very ill at ease with such a relationship UNLESS I know that I am not the "only" or "main mentor". I feel more comfortable with the mentoring concepts highlighted in the book "Connecting: The Mentoring relationships you need to succees in life".
I feel I need many mentors and I need to be realistic especially as I grow older that I cannot expect a single person to be my sole mentor. Not just unrealistic but unfair to the person

Also I have personally found that group mentoring more beneficial (and I think very highly of Tan Soo Inn's triad focus)as it has the community factor that is much needed esp in this time and age.

As someone who now has to officially "mentor" an intern as part of her Bible school training (they call it being her "supervisor" but the job description and expectations include a strong "mentoring component"), I find making my own arrangements for co-mentoring very beneficial to both.

So I have gotten a much older and mature lady will help with areas where a man would be wise not to introduce into a young lady's life :-) as well as ensure that I am a fair mentor in my dealings and expectations. So in this situation it is two official mentors working together (with different gifts) to help one person but in different contexts. Also my mentoree has a third party to go to if she feels I do not understand an issue etc.

Also I have formed a mentoring triad that includes this young lady that will assist by also adding a directed peer mentoring input. This way she is helped from a peer mentor whom she respects, plus she learns to contribute to another's spiritual growth. She is being mentored but she also learns to mentor.

May sounds complicated I suppose since it is hard to explain but for me I hope this will be a more practical and realistic model of mentoring (in which I too will be able to benefit and grow via "reverse mentoring")

Would be nice in one day KY blogs a bit on the STM pastoral group dynamics. I would love to be able to learn and adapt stuff so that "home groups" or "cell groups" evolve into a more deliberate tuep of pastoral groups.

Alex Tang said...

Thanks for this interesting post and comments. I have written an article on a proposed model for theological education in Asia and will value yours and your readers' comment

Kar Yong said...

Thanks, Alex, for the link. I still think there is much unnecessary baggage that conventional seminary carries that prevents its from moving towards PBL model as you have expounded. More about this when I have some time to blog about it.