Sam Stewart's Book Talks

book talks

Reading a good book, watching a movie, eating a home-cooked meal with friends - it doesn't get much better than that.

Unless you're an education major at ACU and you're getting required professional development points tossed in for dessert. Students in Dr. Sam Stewart's classes get all that and more.

They get invited to the home of Stewart and his wife, Debbie, the mastermind behind the home cooking. They enjoy the spacious home and big-screen TV that the Stewarts graciously share with students.

The primary purpose of the Sunday night sessions, known collectively as "Book Talks," is to learn something about the spiritual aspect of teaching by exploring concepts in books or movies. But Debbie quickly picked up on something else. Some of the students were meeting each other for the first time.

"The kids are all talking, and it's kind of fun to hear them get to know each other," Debbie said.

The students also get to know something about the Stewarts and the 22 years they spent in Alaska, where he was in school administration. Sam accepted a teaching position at ACU in August 2007, and the couple has called Abilene home ever since. Debbie works for the ACU Foundation.

In Alaska, the Stewarts hosted Bible studies in their home, and Sam wanted to create the same type environment for his ACU students.

"That actually was one of my goals," Sam said, "to build relationships with students."

Mission accomplished. Jeff Follins, a senior from Garland, likes the opportunity to get to know his professor and classmates away from campus

"You get a better understanding of how he works," Jeff said of his professor. "And you get to interact with your classmates more."

Teaching is a spiritual profession, and these talks have helped me figure out how to combine the two. - Briana Ribble

The Stewarts host six or seven sessions each semester. Four focus on a book that exemplifies Jesus as the master teacher. Two or three feature movies such as "The Ron Clark Story" about an idealistic young teacher from a small town in North Carolina who leaves to teach in a New York City public school.

The book sessions are for students in junior and senior level courses, while the movies are for students in introductory courses.

Briana Ribble, a senior from Arvada, Colo., is a veteran of two Book Talks, one last spring and one this semester. She couldn’t believe what she discovered.

"Being invited to a professor's home is an opportunity that does not come around very often, especially in a small group setting," Briana said. "It is even rarer to have a home-cooked meal provided, too."

For Ribble, one of the main benefits of the sessions is having concepts that she learned in class reinforced through the small group discussions. Talking about books with titles like, Jesus Didn’t Use Worksheets: A 2000-year-old Model For Good Teaching, emphasizes the spiritual aspect of teaching.

"Teaching is a spiritual profession, and these talks have helped me figure out how to combine the two without overtly stating my beliefs in the classroom," Briana said.

The spiritual aspect always makes its way into the discussions at the Stewart home. A blessing is said before the meal and sometimes more extensive worship is included. The book sessions also focus more on the example Jesus set for teaching.

"They get to talk about religion and teaching all in one thing," Sam said.

For the Stewarts, there is no down side to the gatherings. They enjoy the camaraderie and the relationships that are established. The only bad part is that it eventually has to end.

"I wish we had more time as a group," Sam said. "Just about the time we're done, we're getting really close and we've shared things we want to pray about."

At first glance, the sessions don't seem to be designed with teaching in mind. They look more like a cozy gathering where friends enjoy a good meal, get to know each other better, and share ideas gleaned from a good book or movie.

On second thought, they look exactly like they were designed with teaching in mind.

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