Inability to handle confrontation and wanting to be a professor


#1

Since I feel called to academia as a theology professor I expect to face a lot of resistance from students in the classroom, given that Catholic beliefs are oftentimes a subject of very heated debate amongst people and I expect to be challenged quite often by students on theological subjects.

I have strong beliefs on Catholicism but unless I am given several days to prepare I am not very capable of responding to arguments on the spot with effective rebuttals. And as someone aspiring to be a professor of the Faith I feel that it is absolutely necessary to be able to handle confrontation as it happens and without looking weak. I oftentimes get easily lost in the debate and find my arguments for the faith weak, lacking, and incapable of answering the harshest questions secularism asks of my Faith. And even if I am given time to respond I often find my arguments still don't work (either because I can really prove them or they are too readily refuted or they are too harsh).

How can I remedy this?


#2

I think that by the time you have a PhD in theology most people would have the ability to defend their position. As a teacher, you know the arguments students will present and you are prepared for them. That will come as part of your preparation process for teaching and through more thorough knowledge of your subject matter.

If you are unprepared for an argument, you simply state “that’s an interesting point to debate. However, we will continue with our discussion/topic today and pick up your points next time…” Then you have time to prepare. Just because a student brings something up, doesn’t mean you have to address it right then.

On the other hand, if you cannot become comfortable in an authoritative role, with classroom management, and with extemporaneous speaking, then maybe classroom teaching is not for you.


#3

Be confident! you are on the side of Truth! we have a great blessing and tool in our Church teaching, have the faith and confidence that what you believe is True and you will able to enter any confrontation that awaits you.


#4

[quote="LotusCarsLtd, post:1, topic:194882"]
Since I feel called to academia as a theology professor I expect to face a lot of resistance from students in the classroom, given that Catholic beliefs are oftentimes a subject of very heated debate amongst people and I expect to be challenged quite often by students on theological subjects.

I have strong beliefs on Catholicism but unless I am given several days to prepare I am not very capable of responding to arguments on the spot with effective rebuttals. And as someone aspiring to be a professor of the Faith I feel that it is absolutely necessary to be able to handle confrontation as it happens and without looking weak. I oftentimes get easily lost in the debate and find my arguments for the faith weak, lacking, and incapable of answering the harshest questions secularism asks of my Faith. And even if I am given time to respond I often find my arguments still don't work (either because I can really prove them or they are too readily refuted or they are too harsh).

How can I remedy this?

[/quote]

First if you're going to be a theology professor, you'll be teaching students interested in theology. It's quite unlikely that many atheists, agnostics and other unbelievers will be interested in studying theology to begin with.

You'd be more likely to encounter debate from non Catholic Christians, and the best way to remedy your issue is to study extensively so you really know the material, and maybe also study how to debate effectively.


#5

This is often difficult. In part it depends on where you teach. A college that takes Catholicism seriously will be different from one that does not. You are more likely to be challenged or find atheists at the latter. But sometimes those challenges force you to think and engage your subject more deeply–consider them opportunities, graces even!

My advice is know your subject matter very well. The more comfortable you are, the better you are able to handle difficult students. Treat students with respect and be humble in your own abilities. Having a Ph.D. doesn’t make you smart and certainly not wise. I work in academia and trust me some of the world’s biggest fools have the most advanced degrees!

If a student is wrong, tell them they are wrong, but explain why in clear but respectful way. Speak the truth in love as St Paul says. Remember, that angry atheist in the back row may take the first step toward conversion by what you say.

Lastly, you may well flub an answer to a student’s question in class. It will happen. But there is nothing wrong with going home and thinking about it, coming up with a better answer and returning in the next class and saying “Jim raised a great question last week… let’s discuss this further.” Or, if that’s not practical, emailing the student and saying, “Dear Jim, You raised an important question and I’m afraid I didn’t answer it as well as I should have…” This gives you a chance to not only clarify your points, but shows the student that you respect them and take them seriously.

Oh, and if a student asks a question and you don’t know the answer, say so. “Great question, Jim, and I don’t have a godd answer for that right now…let me think about that and get back to you.”

Frankly, you’ll be lucky to have students who are willing to engage you with serious and hard questions. Far better than students who sit there passively and do nothing, or ask irrelevant or incoherent questions.

jb


#6

Don't worry, God helps those who are in His army. Our Lord told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be speaking through them. While we're not holy Apostles and most of us aren't very holy at all, we are not left without help when we have to stand up for the faith.

Even if we talk only about human means, debating skills and audacity can be learnt and practiced. A method of talking with students that Jan talks about above is a good example of how a willing heart can reach up to people and unite in the search for truth that the academic life is about.

President Kaczyński of Poland, who died last Saturday, and who was a law professor, said, "all my experience says that good work, honest performance of duties, just treatment of people, unites people of different worldviews."

While theology is obviously not about consensus but about truth, *the *truth, little worth is our search for the truth if we look out for number one in the discussion and ignore the others for our own advancement as we force our positions (the often, maybe too often used quotation from Aquinas comes to mind: "in my love for the truth let me not forget the truth about love").

By contrast, if we approach people with an example of good, honest work and equitable treatment, we can acquire them for our cause or at least create a setting in which we can talk to them like a man talks to a man, without a verbal or intellectual equivalent of bloodshed. Where we fail to make a point intellectually, academically, our lives and our bonds with people will still be there. The same way, with President Kaczyński, whom I quoted a while above, now people remember first of all that he was a good man. They remember that he was warm and kind and that he and his wife gave a beautiful example of marriage. This is not a lecture given in a university hall.

You will have plenty of opportunity to practice debating and public speaking by the time you become a professor, but your lack of love of confrontation may be not a liability but a blessing if you use it well.


#7

As a college professor myself, sometimes it bothers me that I get so little confrontation. I teach economics and when I bring up controversial issues such as the minimum wage I am often stunned by the lack of opinion voiced by my students. What helps, I think in any classroom confrontation (although I think the word is a bit strong), is to be able to break down an argument into the core issues and be able to address those core issues. Some of the students I enjoyed most are the ones who had opinions that were 180 degrees opposite of me.

In the end, however, I think that practice in front of the classroom is what really gets you used to things. The first few times I taught a class I was a nervous wreck. After a while, you get used to things and can pretty much anticipate most of your questions.


#8

That reminds me of my once tutor, he was so happy finally to get someone to disagree with him.


#9

I too am preparing for a life in academia. Don't worry! When you teach you have the power to direct conversation however you wish. If you prefer not to discuss certain things in class have the student(s) who are trying to debate the truth with you meet with you outside of class to discuss it. This may make things easer. And never be afraid to say you don't know! I have learned that saying 'i'm not sure' but then coming back with more info later is really okay! Plus this gives you time to develop your faith and really research things you may not know off the top of your head.
:)


#10

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