Category Archives: Role of Christian Teacher

The Challenge of Avoiding Censorship

I’m writing about censorship mainly because it is an issue that all Christian teachers need to face–especially literature, art and music teachers, and especially those who teach in a faith-based school. Although I may differ in opinion from some Christian teachers and schools from time to time, I hope that this article will not offend my loyal readers, but instead challenge you to continue the attempt to meet both academic and spiritual needs of your students.

When I traveled abroad in college, one of the seminars I was required to take was entitled “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” I suppose due to the fact that it was supposed to be a cross-cultural experience and also because we were all growing as Christian intellectuals, they considered it a relevant topic. Athens symbolized the world of intellectualism since Greece was the native land of famous philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. Jerusalem, in turn, symbolized the world of faith since it was the birthplace of Judaism and also Christianity. The seminar was entitled as a question because it is the age-old question of our times. How do we reconcile our Christian faith with our ability to reason with the intellect? Must we choose either/or?  Is our intellect truly a completely separate entity that should be divorced from our faith?

For the teacher of literature, art and music (and–let’s face it–history and science as well), sensitivity to the needs and maturity levels of the students is necessary at all times. As parents, we observe our children and try to ascertain when our children are ready to tackle topics that require critical thinking and wisdom. Proverbs says that only fools despise wisdom and understanding. In turn, when we realize that our children are unable to make mature critical judgments in certain areas, we are smart enough not to put them in tempting situations. As teachers, we need to respect the rights of parents and the rights of the children in our classroom.

Of course, the easy solution to any and all book challenges is to do whatever it takes to avoid controversy. If a book is not right for one child, it is not right for them all. Let’s just choose a different book next time and make it clear that the controversial book is not to be used in the future. Certainly that would solve the problem at the time. It certainly would please the person who objected to the book’s content. However, can we really generalize the maturity level of one student to be true for all students, past, present and future? Does one parent have the right to choose for all members of a classroom or all members of a school?

I would like to urge Christian teachers and administrators to consider the messages that book censorship send to students. In order to take the easiest road, we are neglecting the intellectual rights of our students to make some critical decisions for themselves. We are telling them that they are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong and that books are responsible for making us immoral creatures. We are failing to take responsibility ourselves for giving them the tools to make those critical judgments. In robbing them of these opportunities, we are also giving them a false idea of the world around them. We are carefully molding a world for them that, instead, depicts the Christian life as something free and easy. Ignorance is bliss, right?

We are also telling them that they have to choose between faith or their intellect. We are telling them that they cannot exist on the same plane. That one’s intellect cannot be satisfied while being a Christian, and that one cannot be a Christian without leaving the intellect behind. That the solution to dealing with the world is simply to hide away, avoid and ignore it. Again, I mean no offense to those who, as I do, espouse the idea that we are “in the world, but not of it.” I am not saying that a Christian should just roll willy nilly into sinful practices, view pornography as an intellectual exercise or insist that romance novels are works of art. Graphic content without purpose is just graphic content, and I agree that there are plenty of contemporary examples of this trend that should be avoided.

So how do I suggest that we tackle the problem of “difficult content”? At all times, avoiding censorship will be a challenge.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves the following questions when selecting materials to use:

Do these materials promote a lifestyle that is sinful, or do they show the consequences of immoral behavior?

Do these materials serve as an example of a strong literary/intellectual work, or is a lesser work that is worthless in a literary sense?

Do these materials contain graphic, long mentions and descriptions, or are they delicately written so as to avoid salacious content just for content’s sake?

What is the context of the content to the overall work–does it serve a purpose, or is it meant to simply serve as “shock factor”?

Do these materials serve an educational purpose and meet the reading and maturity needs of the students? (For example, you would never expect a middle school student to understand The Scarlet Letter on a reading level, and you also would not expect them to be mature enough to tackle the content and themes of Crime and Punishment.)

Will you be addressing these content issues with the students? (It is usually worse to pretend that they’re not there and assume that the students already understand a Christian world view on these topics without guidance toward making these critical judgments.)

Again, this is the opinion of one woman, and not necessarily the view of any single institution or any other individual. I do not claim to hold the key to the mysteries of the universe or to claim that my opinion on this issue is the only correct approach. I am also not advocating that we should not take our moral responsibilities seriously as to the materials we use to teach. I am instead attempting to think through censorship as an issue, simply because it affects us all and can potentially cause harm and hurt to many people who work in Christian school ministries. I welcome honest, respectful feedback on this topic, as long as it does not demean others or cause more division within the Church. We are called to work together in unity, so let’s not allow this issue to divide us! Instead, let’s reinforce each other and edify each other within the ministry.

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Up To Your Ears in Paperwork?

You’re not alone. At least 50% (if not more) of teaching requires ugly, nasty, boring, time-consuming paperwork. Where does all this paperwork come from? From my experience, it comes from the following:

  • lesson planning and grading
  • communicating with parents via email/notes
  • writing and modifying assessments
  • documenting missing work from students
  • working with the resource department (and by this, I mean REALLY working with them, not just checking the boxes.)
  • printing and copying
  • professional development work
  • writing out detentions/disciplinary forms or reports

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

So many college students decide upon a teaching profession because it seems like simple solution to getting a job once they graduate. Some are also under the mistaken notion that teaching is easy. It usually takes about a few months in the profession to quash that concept.

But before we get frustrated and negative about paperwork, let’s think about all the wonderful things that the paperwork actually does, assuming that we are filling it out in a disciplined, thoughtful way.

  • It allows us to grow as teachers and create more exciting activities for our students.
  • It allows us to help parents become better at their jobs and us to become better at reaching the student before they get to the point of giving up.
  • It allows us to treat all students fairly and meet their different needs in a more effective way.
  • It allows us to keep track of student work before they get so far behind that they can’t catch up.
  • It allows us to work more effectively with LD and ED students and reflect caring by making stronger connections with the Resource professionals.
  • Printing and copying are two functions that we can sometimes take for granted. I know of many school districts who impose very strict printing and copying restrictions on their teachers or even block off the copier with impossible codes! This function allows us to take advantage of so much from giving students typewritten tests and quizzes to including visuals and manipulatives in our classroom activities.
  • It allows us to achieve our credits and maintain active and up-to-date in our profession.
  • It helps us train students how to be self-disciplined and choose appropriate social behavior, taking learning beyond the academic aspect of the classroom to a level of life enrichment.

Thus, paperwork, unfortunately, is a necessary evil. (I know, it was hard to reconcile myself to it also.) Try to remember that next time you’re sitting next to a stack of essays, or trying to grade a constructed project sitting on your classroom floor. Try to remember that next time you get annoyed at having to keep paper records of your grades. Try to remember that when you get to the point of wondering why on earth you became a teacher in the first place. And also remember: We’re all in the same boat.

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Why Teach in a Christian School?

For some of us, teaching in a Christian school inspired a variety of reactions from friends and family. Some accepted it and supported us in our decisions. Others thought we were crazy and trying to brainwash children. For those of us who traveled overseas, the responses were even more varied. Believe it or not, an African-American man in a bi-racial relationship actually told me that he didn’t believe in American teachers going overseas because “we had plenty of kids that needed teachers in the U.S.” It definitely made me think of the values of a multicultural and international education. I will clarify that this site is for supporting ALL Christian teachers, including those who do teach in the public school arenas. There is, indeed, a need for Christian teachers in our public schools, and it is a calling in an of itself that deserves respect. However, it wasn’t necessarily the answer for all of us.

So why did you make the choice to become a Christian school teacher? And why do you continue teaching in a Christian school? What is the draw? What are the pros and cons? Feel free to share your thoughts here to inspire others who may be thinking about a career in Christian school education.

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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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The Challenge for Christian Teachers in Public Schools

Suffice it to say that while I am extremely proud and happy to be a Christian school teacher, I have recently learned that being a Christian educator means much more than where you teach. In actuality, it means how you teach, and especially who you are. If you are a Christian educator means that you are committed to maintaining a personal life of integrity, serving as a role model for students, and raising up students who can make a difference in the world.

How can this be accomplished for those of us who teach in public schools, some of you may very well wonder. We live in a country that preserves the right to believe and the right not to believe. Your opinion on this principle may very well determine whether or not you choose to change the world from within the public school system or whether you choose to retreat and try a different route by choosing homeschooling and Christian schooling as your primary ministry.

On this site I would like to personally recognize two key points about choosing to teach in a public school and try to develop an apologia for those who feel called to this particular ministry. 

1. Jesus tended to minister among those who were most in need of Him. So many stories of Jesus’ life contribute to the idea that Jesus was really about “healing those who were sick.” This does not mean that homeschooling and Christian school ministries are not also valid ministries, but it doesn’t rule out public school teaching as a ministry. Instead, the stories of Zaccheus the tax collector, the woman at the well, the leprous beggars, the Good Samaritan and the thief on the cross teach us that no point is too low that Christ cannot reach into the depths, bring forgiveness from sin and change lives radically. Once we stop believing this, we have chosen to doubt God’s power and we, as a natural result, are blinded to miracles of public school ministries that happen every day.

2. Public schools do not have to be a lost cause. Teachers can contribute in different ways: by pushing for character education programs, by counseling students one-on-one, by inspiring them to seek answers for the emptiness inside their lives and (even subversively) play Christian music in their empty rooms during break in the hopes that the notes will one day reach the ears of a passerby. Those who are brave enough to venture an invitation to a youth group activity, start a Bible study group, or openly admit a personal Christian belief should hold fast to the words of Jim Eliot, which we Christians admire so well: “He is no fool if he would choose to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose.” What is a mission after all, but to take risks in the name of Christ. Above all, it should be the job of each Christian educator to train up children to take ownership of their faith, not to just receive it passively as the byproduct of a parent’s beliefs. In a public school, teachers are more free to ask the big questions concerning ethics, morality, opinions concerning the role of religion in society and even more to model the community service that causes so many to open their eyes to the reality of Christ’s love for orphans, the homeless, the societal rejects, and minority voices in our country.

Just an FYI–If you happen to be a Christian teaching in a public school, you may want to check out the link for the Christian Educators Association International. According to the website, its mission is ” to “serve the educational community by encouraging, equipping and empowering Christian educators serving in public and private schools.” It claims to be the only Christian Association that includes Christian educators working in the public arena and offers professional liability insurance opportunities if you should ever find yourself in a position of threatened suspension, termination or lawsuits.

Thanks for being on the front lines!

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The Politics of Christian Schools

Let’s be honest here: Every school organization possesses its own political infrastructure. Whether you teach at a public school or a private school, levels of authority and governing bodies determine how the school operates. So, for example, when a teacher complains in frustration that a school is political, my answer to the complaint would be, “Well, of course it is!”

Any professional needs to work along the proper lines of authority. If a teacher experiences a problem due to lack of resources, contract complaints, policy adjustments or organizational structures, it is important for them to go to the source. If a project appears to be a project that warrants approval or permission, it is better to communicate and ask for that permission before charging ahead.

What does this mean for Christians? It means that relationships within the Christian school must be preserved at all costs. It means that for the Christian school teacher, gossip should be avoided about school board decisions, policy changes, and contract issues. It means ALWAYS, without fail, going to the source of the problem first instead of bringing all teacher-teacher relationship arguments to the principal’s table. It also means respecting the authority of your school and their decisions, regardless of whether you agree with their decision.

Does this mean that Christian school teachers handle school politics by acting like lambs? No! God has given us different gifts for a reason, and we work together toward common goals. If a decision is made that appears illogical, communicate with the principal in a respectful manner, explaining your perception of events and inviting the principal to give an explanation. Many times the situation has a perfectly reasonable explanation that the principal may realize should be communicated more clearly to the staff. If a fellow teacher does something that is clearly interfering with our own program or demonstrates a lack of attention to the exemplary role they are called to portray, it is within our own interests to gently confront that person one-on-one instead of bitterly talking about them in the teacher’s lounge.

Many times teachers are either afraid to teach a lesson plan because it may seem too controversial or they are subversive enough to teach it without respecting the lines of authority. In most cases, teachers can articulate their objectives and give clear, convincing reasons why their lesson plan is essential to the personal growth of the students. If those objectives were communicated to the principal, students and parents ahead of time, most worries would be assuaged and most complaints stifled. This will not happen all the time, but if feedback shows you that the topic may be inappropriate, listen to the voices of moderation and have enough good judgment to develop a new one.

As a Christian school teacher, you shouldn’t live your career in fear. You should, however, respect the wishes of parents and authorities and take the time for basic communication. Good relationships with parents and authorities create an atmosphere of trust eventually, after you have proven to them that you are willing to love and protect your students as if they were your own children. Censoring your class sessions or forcing content through without permission does the exact opposite.

Once, after two years of teaching experience, I rented a film to show to my 8th grade class. I had recalled the video as being an interesting literary film, and due to lack of time, I didn’t bother to search for content reviews. The result? A few days later, a really great Christian parent spoke with me about the sexual content in the film, which I had already noticed during the viewing was a little beyond the age appropriate level. Was my face red! You see, I should have known better. An experienced teacher cares about the opinions of others wtihin the community. If I had done my homework, and then sent home parental permission slips and informed my principal of my apologia, I would have made a better selection. Thankfully, due to the good relationship I had developed over the years, I was able to humble myself, apologize and accept the parent’s forgiveness. The parent was not bitter over the episode, but instead encouraged that I would take better precautions before showing films in class.

While looking at many news articles concerning teacher lawsuits, I am continually finding that ALL teaching professionals use a similar method, not just Christian teachers. Christian teachers do not have to spend their careers in frustration and feel censored. They just have to go about the right political methods and use good judgment. We should hold ourselves up to this responsibility as individuals even more than secular teaching school systems.

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