When learning hurts: Content warnings in seminary classrooms

Theological educators don't just teach a particular kind of content. We also model a process for engaging with sensitive issues.

The first class I ever taught to seminary students was about death. I was a graduate student myself at the time. I’m not sure why I picked that topic among the various subjects in a course on pastoral care, but I remember I had a well-prepared lesson plan, including an opening lecture.

As I was speaking, I noticed that John, a student in the front row who was usually very engaged in class, was slumped down in his seat. He didn’t make eye contact with me even when I asked questions.

When the class took a break halfway through the session, I realized that a group had gathered around John. He was sobbing uncontrollably, and others were trying to comfort him. I had no idea how to respond, but the professor who oversaw the class went over to talk with him. After a brief conversation John left the room. He returned about 15 minutes later, after the class had reconvened, and seemed more at ease.