Martijn Van Ramshort is completing his fourth year of the BA in Biblical Studies program. Here’s his best advice for squeezing the most learning and growth out of your Bible College experience, even if you’re on the shy side.
The back corner of the classroom has always been my favourite place.
I like to think that teachers call on me less when I’m there, as if a curtain hides me from their view and their nagging questions. I have always been a shy and reserved person. I don’t like being the centre of attention and usually just keep to myself. In classrooms I tend to sit and listen rather than engage with the dialogue.
To my discomfort, some teachers insist on piercing through that curtain.
This was the case one day when I met with Michael Szuk, a member of the Biblical Studies faculty. Out of the blue, he asked me if I wanted to be the TA (teaching assistant) for his Gospel of Mark class. You can probably guess my initial internal reaction: Yea right. I like hiding in the back corner where no one pays attention to me. And now you ask me to be front and centre with you? You’re kidding me right? At the same time, however, I was intrigued. I knew this would be a great opportunity to learn and grow. So, despite my inner disapproval, I told him I would love to.
I was a nervous, sweaty mess that first class as a TA.
My hands were shaking, heart pounding, shirt soaking in sweat. Yet surprisingly I survived. As I grew accustomed to being in front of people, I grew less anxious and more confident. Now I am a TA for the third time. Although I still get some of that nervousness that I first experienced, it has become significantly less.
I’m glad I decided to take that opportunity.
It opened me up to begin taking charge of my learning. Rather than taking a passive, backseat approach, it allowed me to practice what I was learning in my classes and engage with others. It also gave me the confidence to begin getting more involved in classes by asking questions, answering questions, volunteering to read out loud, even sometimes getting out of my beloved back-corner and sitting in the front row (emphasises on sometimes).
It is easy to be passive in our learning.
It is easy to quietly sit, listen, and do our work. It is easy to hide behind our curtains and separate ourselves from the people around us. Yet it is so rewarding if we relinquish our hiding places and begin to engage. For it is when we start to actively take charge of our learning that we really begin to learn.
There are so many classes I have taken that I have mostly forgotten (sorry professors).
The classes that I remember and learned most from – those were the ones in which I decided to come out from behind my curtain.
Those were the classes in which I contributed to class discussion, really wanted to know more, or met with the professor. Those were the classes in which I really engaged with the homework and wrestled with the course material. Those were the classes whose course material I took outside of the classroom and tried to apply to other situations.
In my second year, when our young adults pastor left to work at a different church, I decided to take over the young adult Bible studies. I did not feel prepared at all to take over that responsibility. I was nervous, uncertain, and afraid to accidentally teach heresy. Yet with prayer, preparation, and guidance from other people in my life, I was able to lead the group and ended up learning a lot. Sure I made many mistakes but it was in those failures that I was able to learn the most and try again.
I have also taken the opportunity to meet with professors and talk with them about issues I’m wrestling through. I’ve tutored other students in their courses, was part of a committee at CBC, and helped out at various ministries in my church. In each of these, I decided to apply what I was learning in my classes so that I could see what it would be like to actually do it.
So don’t just sit in on classes but get involved in the community – at CBC, in Abbotsford, and at your church. Take charge of your learning both inside and outside the classroom. The best way we learn is through experiences, so take the opportunities when they arise and, if they don’t, then see where you can create opportunities for yourself. That’s how to get your most of out of the money, time and effort you spend here.
This is the perfect time for growth and trial and error since there is so much grace extended in this community and for those still in school.
So what has happened to that back-corner, nervous, shy, and quiet student? He has learned that he actually loves teaching. He will be going to get his master’s degree next year so that he can be sweating and shaking in front of people for the rest of his career. Then he too will be piercing through those curtains and pulling students out of their comfort space so that they can begin to take charge of their schooling and make the most out of their learning.