I love my job at RTIM. I get to coordinate qualified teachers from North America with church leaders in other countries who need training. An important aspect of this job is making sure that we have good relationships with like-minded churches both at home and on the field. We want to send well-informed teachers. By “informed,” I simply mean those who likely have a college degree in some field and are theologically equipped through an institution or their local church. They’re essential to the work of equipping church leaders and preserving doctrinal integrity in local churches around the world.
But recently, we realized we needed to do more. Sending well-informed teachers to cross-cultural contexts only accomplishes a part of our goal. To best serve our pastors and students on the field, we realized we needed not only faithful content but accessible delivery. Many of these students are products of educational systems that don’t teach critical thinking skills; others, meanwhile, serve in contexts where it’s extremely common to stop attending school around the 8th grade.
Over the years, RTIM has grown in our cross-cultural training. We want to encourage and equip the informed teacher to be aware of and make necessary adjustments to teaching in a cross-cultural setting. The goal of this article is to introduce a spectrum of awareness and adjustability as it relates to cross-cultural teachers.
1. The Unaware and Unadjusted Teacher
It’s possible to send a very well-informed and good-hearted teacher who is so unaware of cultural differences that he makes no adjustments to accommodate to his students. These teachers mean well but their results are often discouraging.
What might this unaware, unadjusted teaching look like? It’s likely fast-paced and full of technical terms. Though it will challenge students to dig deeper, it won’t equip them with enough tools to actually do so. These teachers are sometimes so committed to finishing the notes that they fail to ensure the content has connected with the pastors. These innocent and well-intentioned errors are common, but they can be avoided.
2. The Aware and Unadjusted Teacher
Aware teachers realize that the students are different than what they’re used to. They spend their week learning a few new greetings and eating new foods. But when it’s over, they leave wondering if what they taught will make a difference.
Their uncertainty is rooted in knowing they taught as well as they could but the unclear response of the students revealed that their best intentions may not matter. In these situations, the students may gain some knowledge but the teacher likely returned frustrated that his lessons did not connect.
3. The Aware and Adjusted Teacher
This teacher is aware that the students learn differently than he was taught and so he has incorporated some suggested adjustments without compromising the integrity of his content. Furthermore, he planned ahead. He scheduled time for interaction with the students.
The students are well served, and so the teacher returns encouraged that the challenging adjustments he made were worth it.
4. The Aware and Adapted Teacher
Few teachers will achieve this after only a few short-term teaching trips. Nonetheless, it’s a worthy goal. These teachers are able to process their material and then present it in a way that the students can easily understand and apply in their specific ministry context. This teaching proficiency can really only be achieved by experience.
5. The Fully Aware and Fully Adapted Teacher
These teachers will have the greatest contribution to make to cross-cultural theological education because they’ve chosen to live in a different context so that they become highly proficient in its culture and language. A teacher isn’t likely to achieve this high level of cross-cultural proficiency even after several short-term teaching trips.
Short-term theological education has limitations and challenges. But it can also be extremely valuable. We hope to minimize the limitations and ensure that we serve our students by wisely preparing our teachers. In short, our goal is to send informed, aware, and adjusted teachers around the world so that the Lord might raise up qualified men to establish and pastor healthy churches around the world.
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