Monthly Archives: May 2008

What is a Christian Teacher Anyway?

Today I received a very thoughtful comment from Bernard, and I thought that I would share it with you.

“Great to see such a beautiful and thoughtful site developing Anna! I too went to small Christian school (in Kenya) for some years, also a large (Irish) convent school, a private school and finally a conservative grammar school for boys in Northern Ireland…!
SO a UNIQUE perspective on questions that I now grapple with as a state school teacher in Scotland:

*am I a Christian who teaches or a teacher who is a Christian?
* is it time for Christians to leave the state (public) school system and invest our resources in Christian schools?
*What does it mean to teach “christianly”?

A praying teacher in Scotland,
Bernard”

My response was as follows:

Thanks, Bernard, for your feedback. You bring up a very interesting question: What is a “Christian Teacher” or “Teacher-who-just-happens-to-be-a-Christian” anyway? I believe that Christian teachers operate under certain core beliefs:
–That every child is a unique creation of God and therefore worthy of our respect and love.
–That God has mandated His desire that we guide children in understanding ethical issues and making right choices in life.
–That teaching is not just a job, but a vocation and a means of giving glory to God with your life, your identity and everything that you are.
Definitely, WHERE you teach sometimes influences your treatment of these three core issues.

From previous posts, those who have been keeping up with my interest in Christian teachers in public schools will know that my belief is that the public school system is not a lost cause. However, for those of us who grew up in Christian or private schools, teaching in the public school may feel sometimes like a loss of identity. By this I mean that the “Christian” you is forever putting words in your mouth, burdens on your heart and songs on your lips, and for someone who is used to an environment where this is considered completely normal 24/7, it is an abrupt change to feel limited in this area of life. Burnout for Christian teachers can happen in a public school simply because self-expression in this area of their lives is basically cut off except in very limited circumstances. It was due to this loss of identity that I eventually turned my career toward international Christian school teaching. However, many mission fields exist around the world where Christian have to be careful about how they approach evangelization and other areas of the Christian faith. Do we leave these countries and refuse to bother?  

A friend once told me that on a missions trip, one of his fellow travelers was listening to some of the profanity used by the very people that they were going to assist in their project. The fellow traveler was highly perturbed and said, “How can we minister to these people if they’re going to use language like THAT?” The answer to that question is, “By the grace of God.” Once we start eliminating mission fields because it’s too difficult, because it requires self-sacrifice, because the people seem “unworthy,” we fail at God’s core mandate, The Great Commission itself. Our job is to point toward God’s grace, which is available for all regardless of their past, regardless of their present.

Think of it this way. I am blessed to be able to work in a multicultural environment every single day. My students come from all over the world: China, Bolivia, Russia, Argentina, Peru, Panama, Mexico, The U.S., South Korea, etc. However, in the States, that is NOT necessarily the case. Many multicultural students end up attending urban schools or somehow filtering into charter schools, whereas some of our stateside Christian schools end up ministering to a predominately white Protestant Christian community. If we all “pulled out” of public schools entirely, we would not only be saying that these students should not be served by Christian teachers, but that they are not worthy of our attention. 

For this reason, we should focus our attentions on helping those Christian teachers called to public school ministry to avoid burnout at all costs. We should be spending our time encouraging them, building them up and supporting the work they do. If the Christian community embraced this idea, I think that we would find more dedication to the faith among Christians teaching in public schools.  

Just an opinion, but I hope it sparks some discussion.

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Technology in the English Classroom

One of the greatest challenges that will be facing me next year is how to best utilize technology in the classroom, whether as an instructional tool, an assessment tool, or simply showing students how English and technology work together in today’s 21st century world. So far, our school is equipped with a fairly large computer lab–around 25 computers network-connected. We also will have a projector and laptop in each classroom beginning with next year. I’ve also talked the school into purchasing a few video cameras for use in creating video projects, and they have thankfully complied. This year, I used my personal portable DVD player for school DVD viewing because we have a limited supply of DVD players at the school, and some of them were missing remote controls or not working correctly.

Despite all of the increasing technology that is being made available to our school, I am facing the challenge of how to incorporate it into my classes and also with the challenge of how to coach a new middle school teacher how to incorporate it into the middle school curriculum, which is even more focused on computer literacy. They will need to be able to film, edit and upload Youtube videos, blog their own portfolios and demonstrate agility with Powerpoint and MS Word. I’m super excited about what the future holds, but I know that I will also need to teach myself how to do these things before I can begin to instruct students in their use.

So here is the challenge for you who view the Forum and want to share lesson plan ideas: Do you have any worksheets, plans or instructional guides that incorporate technology in your classroom as a student project? An assessment activity? An instructional tool? If so, pass the information along to your fellow teachers by either emailing them to me or by commenting on this site. I’m sure that there are many other teachers who are in the same boat here, and need to educate themselves or gather together resources and ideas. Remember–if you have any requests that you would like to be blogged on this site, be sure to let me know! I want this site to be helpful for you, and your needs may be different than my needs as a teacher. Also, if you saw something on this site that helped you, be sure to let me know!

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Graduation for the Christian Teacher?

One by one, I watched my seniors stand up in front of their fellow students and family members during our Monday chapel session. It was a special chapel created just for them, featuring songs sung by seniors who have participated in worship band. I watched one of my students sing in front of us all, and then it finally hit me: This will be one of the last times I will see this girl sing in the worship band. It will be the last time that I will hear this boy’s voice before he moves on to the next stage in life.

I often wonder how it feels as a parent to watch your child grow up. Considering the bittersweet heartache I experience each year as I watch my own “children” set off for their own life experiences in college, I imagine that the pain and joy involved is a complicated mixture of emotions.

I cry every year at graduation.

This year, I will watch some of my students who have been with me since 8th grade and followed me through my entire teaching career. I know them both academically and personally, and see them not just as students, but as my own children. In fact, I have even had some students call me “mom” on purpose because I have taken up the role as a second mom in their lives. I will miss them very much. And yet it is time to let them go and learn how to fly on their own.

As a Christian teacher, the graduation process is never without the wondering. Did I really contribute to this student’s life? Did I do everything I could? Will this student remember my name as the years pass by and remember some of the lessons I taught them? I make a deal with my students whenever they withdraw or graduate: at least once in the next year they have to email me and let me know how they are doing. You cannot imagine how much happiness it brings to my heart to see an email telling me, “Miss Drake, I am getting fantastic grades in my English classes here at college! You were right–they do make you read and write a lot!” Heaven knows whether I will see some of them again. But I hope that they are continuing to seek God for their lives and learning what it means to define their own identities in this changing world.

Watching our students graduate is a difficult process emotionally. But perhaps we should also use these moments to think about our own graduation as teachers. Each year I ask myself, “What is one thing that I should change next year in order to be a better teacher to my students?” As a first year teacher, the list was very long, and I had to limit myself to changing one piece at a time. But the list continues even as the years of experience accumulate. We may have 20 years of teaching experience, master’s degrees and even doctoral degrees, and yet we can still commit ourselves to positive change in our teaching. Being the best teacher possible is an evolving process that never ends. If we were to “graduate” today, we would probably see ourselves at a new beginning instead of at the end, just as our students are now viewing their futures. Next year, let’s commit ourselves to learning and growing. Let’s give our students the best that we can and keep their needs a priority in our own commitment to training and professionalism. Self-discipline is sometimes difficult to maintain, but modeling it will show our students how much we care for them, and demonstrate to them a commitment to our field.

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Members of the Same Body–Teamwork in a Christian School

Today I had the immense privilege of participating in a Volunteer Appreciation Night at my school. I know that in public schools, the PTA help out in many ways through fundraising activities and other volunteer work. Our parent association is brand new and definitely fledgling. However, I have been so impressed with how much our parents give of their time, money and energy simply out of love for their kids and dedication to our school. We held two major fundraising events this year–one was a fall fair that included games and activities, and the other was a Walkathon held in a local park. Due to the money we raised, we were able to project the purchase of a laptop and projector for every single classroom. I am stunned at the generosity of our parents in terms of participation in these events, considering that THEY were the ones who organized them both! In the past, we teachers have had more responsibilities in these events. We had to come up with games, force our classes to participate and stay really, really late at night to clean up. But all that changed, and it turned out that they did an even better job than we have ever done! In a short devotional, I expressed to them my understanding that we as educators, administration and parents are all members of the same body–blessed with different functions, but united together in the same goal.

So, in this blog, I would especially like to focus on the fact that as Christian school teachers, whether in public, private or homeschools, we are all “members of the same body,” so to speak. We all fulfill very important roles in the education of kids and in society itself. It is time for those who are Christian educators to stop focusing on their differences and divisions and to start uniting together toward a common goal. It is time for public school teachers to stop insulting homeschooling as an option. It is time for public school teachers to stop denigrating the education that a Christian school might offer. It is time for Christian private school teachers to stop generalizing about the “evils” of all public schools. The truth of the matter is that we all have chosen our particular path for a reason and we all have an opportunity to fulfill God’s purpose. Let’s begin praying for each other to only increase our dedication for the academic and spiritual success of our students. Let’s begin helping each other by sharing our knowledge, our expertise and our experiences. Let’s encourage one another to keep trying to change the world, one student at a time.

When I first began writing this blog, it was simply as a way for me to connect my love of writing with my love of teaching in a wonderful Christian school. I never planned on becoming a Christian school teacher. In fact, I assumed my sophomore and most of my junior year in college, that I would eventually choose a public school. But God knew where I belonged and changed my plans. I feel as though this blog is the same way. I originally wanted it to be a networking site where we can share the nitty-gritty day-to-day stuff of teaching and bring each other the resources that we may not be able to find elsewhere. But in the end, I want it to be more than your average “Find-A-Lesson-Plan” website. I want it to be a place where we can safely and openly discuss our faith and how it applies to our teaching. I want it to be a place where we can feel less isolated from each other and realize that there are more of us out there than it may seem upon first glance. I want it to be a place where we can bind together differences and make the most of what God has given us. Idealistic? Perhaps. But what are Christian teachers if we are not idealists? If we do not continually hope in Christ’s ability to transform lives, we have become cynics. And the world already has plenty of those.

 

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Digital Portfolios

Currently, student-created digital portfolios are the latest trend, and it just makes sense. In today’s age of technology, digital literacy is fundamental for many of us pursuing careers. We place our resumes online, email attachments to employers, create our own websites, and read online journals. Tracking student progress throughout high school has been for me a challenge as long as the paper-and-pencil method has been in force. Keeping massive quantities of binders and files, sorting them out, and allowing reflection through the years has been an exercise in organization and frustration. Our students next year will be creating their own blogs and beginning their first digital portfolios, but some of you may be wondering how they will accomplish that feat. I have attached a link to this post that may be helpful to you. If you are reading this now, chances are that you already know how easy blogging can be and how easily it can be adapted for use as a portfolio. However, you may want to explore something bigger, better or be able to explain to your employer why a whole-school initiative should be adopted. Feel free to use the information found at the link to help you accomplish this task.

http://4rxt.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/resources-for-electronic-portfolios/

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Homeschooling–A Kid’s Perspective

Dear friends at Christian Teacher Forum,

I happened to run across a blog with an apologia for her homeschooling experience. She was not necessarily homeschooled for religious reasons, but has also confronted the stereotypes concerning homeschooled kids. I wanted to post a link to her persuasive blog so that you would be able to appreciate the reasoning that she gave as to why her homeschooling education was very much appropriate for her. I hope you enjoy this first-person read!

http://nobodytoldme.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/homeschooling/

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Audio Books Part 2

After communicating via email with the Recorded Books people, they explained what their company had to offer in terms of resources. So, as a follow up, I decided to post the email that was sent to me on this blog so that you could see for yourselves what Recorded Books can give you and how it will help your particular child or student to succeed in school.

From: “Jean Stephens” <jstephens@recordedbooks.com>  Add Mobile Alert
To: “‘Anna Drake'” <anna_drake22@yahoo.com>
CC: “‘Jennah Watters'” <kjennah@recordedbooks.com>
Subject: Recorded Books for ESL
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 12:46:52 -0400

Hello!

Thanks for visiting our blog. I enjoyed your site. Stimulating ideas and a very nice look.

 

No, Recorded Books does not have any teacher guides oriented towards religion.

 

As for ESL, we think the best application of audio is the listen-and-read strategy with an unabridged audiobook that matches the print book word for word. This multisensory approach lets the narration support students with weaker reading skills, or, alternatively, the reading along in the book can help students transition from the spoken word to print text. Often the listen-and-read approach allows striving readers to access books they might not be able to handle without audio support—and that means you don’t have to “dumb down” their material and students are spared the insult of trying to learn with books that are too immature for them.

 

We’ve also got popular K-12 fiction recorded at slightly reduced speeds to give ESL learners a little more time to run their eyes across the print page (SteadyReaders) and we have some very slow recordings of specially written short books for older students whose English is at an early elementary level (SmartReaders.) These and some other ESL tools can be seen at our website: go to www.recordedbooks.com/school, click on Special Products, and start with the Overview at the top of the menu.

 

Thanks so much for mentioning us at your site. Looks like we share some of the same concerns and objectives. Look forward to hearing from you again.

 

Jean Stephens

School Marketing Manager

Recorded Books, LLC

1 800 638-1304, ext. 1144

www.recordedbooks.com

www.pluggedintoreading.com

 

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