Touring and Teaching in the Digital Age

Have you ever gotten stuck with a bad guide? It can dampen the excitement for even the best of journeys. Below, Joe Cox shares his experience with two very different guides and relates it to his vocation as a high school teacher.

In November 2019, I was blessed to be able to live out a life’s dream of visiting the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel. My family and I excitedly entered the courtyard outside the Vatican Museum, where we spent almost an hour of a professional tour looking at a model of the Vatican and learning about the different flora on the property.  When we finally entered the museum, we were whisked through chambers, past relics of antiquity demanding further investigation.  Almost out of breath from the speed of our so-called tour, my wife and I decided to ditch the guide midway. It was the best decision we made that day!  We worked our way back through the museum, exploring elements previously overlooked, and when the culmination of our path through the museum emptied us into the Sistine Chapel, I was not robbed of a bucket-list experience by some stranger’s curriculum and timetable.  I soaked it in, taking time to sketch elements of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam fresco into my travel journal.

In the Classroom, We Teachers Must Guide

I fear there have been times when I’ve played the role of that guide in the classroom.  I geared up the class with lots of minutiae as I surveyed the material from the proverbial thirty-thousand-foot view; when I finally got into the details the students were interested in, I sped past them, trying to move through the demands of a curriculum impossible to fit into the class’s time frame.  I did not take the time to find out what the students were interested in or recognize the value of letting them explore.  No wonder students mentally ditched out of the tour midway.

It has been argued that with the introduction of the internet into learning, we teachers are no longer the gatekeepers of information.  Perhaps this is a valuable observation to bear in mind as we revise our view of the teaching vocation.  Imagine approaching your class as a tour guide, one who has traveled the path many times before and can point out interesting features—sharing your personal delights along the way.  You still have a destination in mind and even a time frame in which to complete the journey.  However, you know there are distinct paths to lead your tour along, based on elements that you have learned interest your fellow travelers.

Another Adventure and a Better Way

This past summer, my wife and I were blessed to explore another bucket-list destination.  I had just launched my kayak into the cove when my wife came paddling up to me from the river we were about to explore.  “Look at that mountain.  Does it look familiar?” she asked.  I struggled with a vague recollection.  Then she pointed it out—it was the location where part of an opening scene of one of my childhood favorite adventure movies was filmed.  Serendipitously, I was wearing a replica of the hero’s fedora; I reached up and gently tipped it to her.  Shocked that she recognized the place, I inquired into her discovery.  There was a tour guide passing on the river with some other kayaks, pointing out the unique locations along the waterway, and my wife had overheard the discussion. 

As we floated along the river to the final destination of a pool beneath a breathtaking waterfall, we made the guide’s acquaintance; her name was Paige, and she was more than willing to let us soak up the information she shared with her small retinue. We chatted and got to know one another, sharing experiences and backgrounds.  We explored the facets of the river we wanted to see and returned to the guide when we had questions or when she paused to point out a feature of the land.  She warned us to stay off the Queen’s Bath in respect to local customs, and she kindly assisted with first aid when there was a minor injury.  She simply loved her job and loved the river and was delighted to share that love with her fellow travelers.

I strive to follow Paige’s example as I look at the vocation of teaching in the era of the internet.  I know the class’s final destination.  I know how long it will take to get there, and I know what skills are required to get there safely.  But along the way, my job is to share my passion for the subject and allow my students the freedom to discover theirs.  My job is to allow for exploration—and even failure, prepared to provide some comfort and bandages—making even the bumps in the road part of the experience in which the student is but a fellow traveler. 

Dear Teachers, Guide Well

This creation we inhabit is breathtaking—even from the confines of a classroom.  The Lord has turned us loose to explore and delight in it.  We teachers have the joy of sharing that delight with our young charges.  Along the way, we get to remind them of the One who has placed us in this world of cascading waterfalls, Renaissance frescos, mathematical puzzles, and redemptive literature.  As we guide their exploration of the vastness of God’s creation, let us remember that our task is not simply to impart knowledge or complete a curriculum.  Our task is to help our students to discover their place in this world, grounded in their baptismal identities as God’s children.

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Written by

Joe Cox

Rev. Joe Cox serves as the head of the English department at Lutheran High School South in St. Louis, Missouri. He also coaches the school’s mock trial teams. Joe is married to Barb Cox, and they have two adult children, Caleb and Megan. In his free time, Joe enjoys playing board games and traveling.

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