While Dr. James W. Riddlesperger may kick off some weeks teaching First Church Sunday School, he spends his weekdays as a Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University. And now FUMCFW is proud to congratulate Jim as the 2017 recipient of The Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Achievement as a Creative Teacher and Scholar from Texas Christian University. This award is given each year by TCU to recognize sustained exceptional teaching and high quality scholarship among the university’s faculty. FUMCFW is proud to have such an excellent teacher among us!
In Jim’s humble opinion, however, an award is the least important thing in any profession. As he puts it, the award is recognition of a life accomplishment, but not accomplishment itself. What matters the most? According to Jim it’s the daily things. “It’s not the destination but the journey that’s so important, because the journey determines the destination in so many ways,” Jim explains. “Daily interaction with students leads to ‘aha!’ moments in our interactions and takes us to new levels of understanding, cooperation, and communication.” For instance, when a student recently asked him how to do better on an exam, they had a productive conversation that Jim says was very rewarding. “It’s little things that make the mountain,” he adds. “It’s not the mountaintop experience that’s as important as how you got to the top. The laughter, shared tears, and daily experiences become rich and vivid and feed you on a daily basis.”
Long before Jim moved mountains with students, he wanted to be a lawyer. When he graduated early from college and was offered an opportunity as a teaching assistant, he didn’t realize he had agreed to more than just a temporary position while attending graduate school. By the time Jim obtained his master’s degree, he didn’t even bother applying to law school.
He had already been transformed into a teacher and was on his way to join what his dad called a family tree full of teachers and preachers — including his father, his mother, and even his mother’s mother. “I think these things are organic and to some degree you end up doing them without planning to,” Jim says. “You just realize it’s who you are and what you’re about.”
Throughout his 41 years as a teacher, Jim has learned along with his students. He has seen blackboards and chalk replaced by PowerPoint presentations replaced by yet another modern invention. So Jim changed with the technology. He also went from being seen as peer, then parent, and now grandparent. So Jim changed with generations. “You learn to continually adapt as a teacher and it’s a real challenge to stay relevant in your communication,” he says. “Old dogs like to use old techniques and have to learn new tricks all the time.”
For Jim, the real turning point in teaching is when you begin to realize that it’s not about teaching — it’s about creating an environment for learning. “A teacher is really a learning facilitator,” he points out. “You have to instill lessons upon students but also incorporate these lessons into your own life. That’s what makes you more effective in communicating to students.” And once students become participants, it takes pressure off the teacher. Jim says that teaching Sunday School is easy because you don’t have to give exams which always seem to become the focal point in an educational setting. “Normally I have some idea where I want to go in Sunday School, but a number of times I end up somewhere else — like South America instead of Washington D.C. — because that’s where the discussion leads us,” he adds. “It’s really important in a learning environment, whether a university or anywhere else, to take advantage of learning moments.”
When it comes to learning as part of our Healthy Plate Discipleship, we Learn in order to discover and better understand who God is. To Jim, how we act toward one another determines who we are. “That’s what the whole balance of Healthy Plate is about,” he says. “For me, my journey to God is in interactions with others, because the love of others shows you what God is like.”
Jim and his wife, Kris, have lived in Fort Worth and been FUMCFW members for 35 years. While Jim teaches 10 – 15 adult Sunday School classes over the course of a year, he and Kris are personally part of the Good Neighbors class. They have two sons who both grew up at First Church. James, 34, lives in New Jersey with his wife, Megan, 1-year-old daughter, Nell, and another daughter due in March. David, 31, lives here in Fort Worth with his wife, Melissa, and 6-year-old daughter, Mae Len. Jim says that after teaching as a profession comes his number one hobby of reading.
Congratulations to Jim on his many accomplishments as a teacher — on campus, off campus, and everywhere in between.