Teaching: More than Knowledge and Skills
You are all teachers. What does that take? It takes not only a warm heart, but also an awareness of what a privilege it is to work with developing young people! What a responsibility, too! When we think about Christian education in our Reformed schools we need to sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus. We have to learn his ways. His words must shape our mindset and our heart, because we are teaching the children that are baptized in his name. They must meet with Him through our teaching.
To know the Lord, and to learn what is in his heart, it is necessary to study the history of Israel. In Judges 2 we discover the secret behind God’s actions: He is compassionate with his children (v. 18). We will never be able to fathom how great his love is for his people. (At the same time, we are in danger when we just take it for granted.) As teachers, we need the constant awareness that God’s love surrounds us everywhere and always. Starting the day at school with thanksgiving for his compassion will have us view our students in a different way and our teaching will really make a difference.
However, teaching is more than knowledge and skills. We also have to be aware of the changes that have occurred in our students and our schools. Let us think about a few aspects.
Decades, or at least years ago, we knew exactly who the students were who were studying in Christian schools. We had their profile straight; we knew their background. Coming from Holland, their grandparents had settled in Canada and they had the desire to bring a new generation of Reformed believers to a new country. Reformed schools were established and, although it was expensive, our brothers and sisters were full of love for the Lord and willing to make sacrifices. Schools and churches were built and there was a clear vision by which to make proper choices for good and useful expenses. Young people were involved and experienced themselves how the Lord blessed obedience.
Nowadays, young people know from hear-say that times were hard and that there was a lot of love for the Reformed cause. But, as happens in a natural process, if you do not experience the hardship yourself, you value the gained treasures differently. Today, students are able to have their own world. They have summer jobs and spending money. They can afford a car, beer, and the clothes they like, and they enjoy their life together with their own movies and music. Sometimes they enjoy these things in ways that have parents and grandparents worried. How is it possible that the young people have such a worldly lifestyle, even though they had such beautiful Bible programs in Reformed schools?
We can find one of the answers to this question in Lord’s Day 52: the devil, the world, and our own flesh are active in our lives. Maybe we do not always admit it, but TV and its commercials evoke in all of us desires that go against a God-pleasing life. It is possible that we enjoy the daily Bible studies at school and still do not make them really a part of our thinking and feeling. Our mindset can be totally off the mark of pleasing our Lord. Many students are spending hours in front of TV, Facebook, or Internet games. Do we think about the possible effects on their wills and their desires? We would be shocked when listening in to the stories told on the school bus. Are we really honest about the impact of the sexual appeal of certain pictures or movies? What impact do we allow them to have in our schools and homes? Do we allow students to share their grand stories (of a worldly lifestyle) during class time? If there were no TVs in the house, there are other ways to be affected with the spirit of an easy life that is centred around our leisure and pleasure time. Children will notice the ads everywhere in the shops and on the streets. It is attractive for all of us to be caught in the mindset that it is all about me, myself, and I. We will only be delivered from this evil when it becomes our desire to please God (Ephesians 5:10).
My question is: how do we as school reckon with the influences from the world when we fulfil our teaching task? Will young people be able to understand the meaning of the word “compassion” if they are not deeply taught to take the temptation to sin seriously in their lives? Students at our schools are sometimes incredibly mean to each other. They know from the Bible teachings at home, in school, and at church, that we have to be loving and caring. But a lot of young people experience the total opposite in our schools. Maybe we did not really fight the ways of the evil one if we do not have rules in place whereby the weaker students are protected in our schools. We and the students are in need of the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that we discover our own and each other’s weaknesses. The spiritual growth of every student, weak or strong, is an important goal throughout the school education, and teachers should feel responsible to address this aspect of the students’ lives. How else can students grow in love and compassion?
Quintilianus (AD 35-95) wrote that the crucial part of the teaching-learning process is the spotless character of the teacher. “He is to be a father to his students, aware that he is taking the place of the parents: in loco parentis.”
It is a very good thing that the quality of school education is being measured, even by institutions outside the Reformed schools. We together should aim for the best we can offer, because we want to serve the Lord and the coming of his Kingdom. In the meantime, we should be aware of a danger: the emphasis can shift from how to guide a student to how to teach a subject. Our teachers are equipped by their studies at universities. The subject they teach is mastered at a high level. The higher the level of teaching, the less personal care for the student is required and that is a natural process.
Teachers still can be a blessing in the personal life for the individual student. However, some teachers may think that if there is a problem in the personal life of a student, we have our specialists, our counsellors. They also may shrug it off as a problem of the home. To become somewhat involved in the lives of students may be the privilege of the Phys Ed teachers. It is not always easy to view the students as “younger brothers and sisters” who need to be introduced to life in the covenant. And yet, it is so important to embrace the vision that “teaching is more than knowledge or skills.” Professional development includes spiritual development. Principals and board members should pay attention to this aspect of the quality of their school education and talk to every individual teacher about this growth in the Lord. Teachers who are spiritually mature in their willingness to serve the Lord can do more. They can become role models and inspire students to really serve the Lord with all their gifts. Even during class, they can develop specialties with students, and build them up for a life of growing dedication to the Lord.
But how can we be a blessing if we do not really know our students? Here are a few things to think about.
How eager are we to do outside yard duty in summer and winter? This leisure time for the students and teachers is the time when we can get to know our students better. Show interest in their well-being and reach out to them as “more than a teacher.” Students are sometimes so much in need of a positive word!
Are we sure that we see every student? We write in our school curriculum that we acknowledge every student as a unique personality, created by our God. Yet, are we sure that we practice what we preach in this area? Are we mindful of lonely, depressed, or even suicidal students? We could record in our journal to whom we talked and notice that we did not really “see” some of the students for a long time. Communication is highly important and our smile or friendly nod may be the only nice gesture some students receive on a given day. We may expect from each other that we encourage this professional behaviour in our Reformed school society if we are to deserve the name of being “in Christ.”
Do we eagerly pray for our students? Sometimes we look for improvement of the quality of school education through the courses and workshops we take and a rewriting of our curriculum. Should we write down that daily prayer for our students is also a requirement for the teachers whom we allow to teach the baptized generation?
When we enter a school as a teacher, we expect that the curriculum is in place and that we just have to apply what others wrote down before us. However, if we have to write part of the curriculum ourselves, we develop some ownership and become more aware of the treasures we have to pass on to the next generation. As a result, being a teacher becomes a way of life in which we embody what we teach.
There was a time that everything about lifestyle of Reformed families was clear: we did not go to the movies, we did not drink, and we did not wear spaghetti straps. However, a lot of the unwritten rules of former days are disappearing. Families now often decide for themselves how they show their Reformed convictions and opinions in life. In school and church societies this can cause real problems and sadness. For young people, it has become difficult to see what is right or wrong. We are afraid to call something “sin” nowadays. Families that are more traditional can have a really hard time to stay conservative and to not push their children into isolation.
Changes in opinions are an urgent reason for ongoing communication between families and schools. We want to stay focused on devotion to the Lord and the willingness to obey his laws with gladness. How can we keep the consciences of the youth receptive to the work of the Holy Spirit, who brings us to repentance or conversion? Under God’s guidance and with his compassion, they will be “the people of kings, priests, and prophets” before the face of the Lord. We cannot give the young people faith, but we are responsible for our actions and decisions as leaders.
The quality of teaching in the homes and the schools is greatly served by, and should be grounded in, the teachings in the church. Responsible leaders in the Reformed community need to come together to help each other to handle the changes that occurred in the past decades. It is not helpful to deny those changes. As God’s chosen people we all know the well loved verses written in 1 Peter 2:9, where Peter quotes Exodus 19:6 and other places which speak about God’s goal for our life and the church. I would like to pass on the following reading suggestions for teachers:
For our personal growth: the Book of Proverbs, to gain Godly wisdom for the practical situations of every day in school.
We all should read the letter to the Romans on a regular basis. In that way, we may not forget where we came from and what sacrifices it took the Lord Jesus to save us and to give us his new destination.
Another source of wisdom and encouragement could be Harro van Brummelen’s Walking with God in the Classroom.
May God’s compassion for us, sinners, stimulate us to look with compassion at our students, so that we will see more than just results that are measured in terms of knowledge and skills.