TWI asked teachers working in different fields, different capacities, and in different parts of the world what they have learned about God and the value of education in their vocation of teaching. Here’s what some of them had to say:
The Lord has taught me eight things that I try to apply in my teaching: First, love and affection, loving as our Lord loved us. If we do not love our students, it will be hard to convey what we want them to learn. Second, acceptance. A teacher should accept and teach a student regardless of his or her nationality, doctrine, sect, and respect his or her ideas even if they differ from that of the teacher’s. Third, faithfulness. A teacher must be careful in how she uses words and in explaining new concepts. She must care enough that everybody understands, and is willing to repeat ideas as needed, with kindness.
Fourth, patience. I must be patient as I teach a new language to foreigners. I try to be patient with each student in my interactions with them, and I seek to know their needs and problems. I pray with them and for them, and try to strengthen our relationship and give them a high spirit of happy learning. Fifth, praise and appreciation. Words of praise to any hard worker or anyone trying to do their best will lift their spirits, and help them to continue in their work.
Sixth, availability. As Jesus was available any time he was needed, it is good for a teacher to make her students feel she is available. Seventh, approachable. The attitude in approaching things with a smile and kindness keep the class as atmosphere as merry as possible. Finally, accountability. I should fulfill my goals. I am accountable for my work, because what I do, I am doing for the LORD.
– Mrs. Ghada Habash, Arabic language instructor, Kelsey Arabic Program, Amman, Jordan
The American essayist Wendell Berry writes in “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” that “The significance—and ultimately the quality—of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.”
One of the ramifications of living in the twenty-first century is that we are entangled in a myriad of unrelated and, oftentimes, unwelcome “stories.” In addition to the honorable vocational stories in which I have elected to participate—as a Christian, a husband, a father, a friend, and a teacher—I am simultaneously entangled in countless unwanted stories relating to consumerism and materialism, sexism and racism, and many other narratives that endorse greed, waste, and an unbridled “pursuit of happiness.”
What I have learned about God through teaching is that not all narratives are created equal.
Some narratives, such as the Christian story of a humble man who chose to die painfully and shamefully at the hands of merciless soldiers to save the world, promote human dignity and self-sacrifice. These types of narratives self-evidently surpass others, such as the story of the “American Dream,” which, although seemingly harmless and even honorable, nevertheless gives license to self-indulgence and an undue emphasis on achievement.
As I teacher, I am part of a noble history of questioning the status quo and calling things what they actually are rather than what they appear to be. And it is my vocation as a teacher to help my students recognize that their participation in the human story of cosmic restoration—which encompasses not only the entire world but each individual—takes precedence over rival stories which compete with the Christian narrative.
Just this week, for instance, as I have been serving as a guest lecturer in South Korea, one of my students shared with the class her fear of never getting married because she feels that she is not as thin as other young Korean women. As a teacher, I get to share with this young woman, and the class as a whole, that the “story” about which she refers—where a false image of humanity is worshiped—stands in pale comparison to the Christian story, where each individual person has an immeasurable amount of worth due to his or her prior status as a one made in God’s image.
As a teacher, I am “successful” inasmuch as I help students recognize the countless and conflicting stories vying for their allegiance, and then discern with them which stories are true to the human condition and which ones are not.
Again, to repeat what I have learned about God through teaching, it is that all narratives are not created equal. And, as Berry noted, the significance and the quality of our lives are ultimately based on recognizing the story in which we are taking part.
– Dr. Derek Cooper, Assistant Professor of World Christian History, Biblical Seminary; author of Christianity and World Religions (2012), among other titles.
As a lecturer and dean at a seminary in Israel, having been educated in the United States and the United Kingdom, I am often grieved and angered by how much it seems that Western higher education has abandoned God. The tasks of my discipline often seem quite impossible. Universities confer many, many PhDs, but merely having that degree says nothing about whether a person has come to love and cultivate wisdom and the pursuit of truth. In its present state, I do not think that higher education is genuine; it says it does things that it does not do. This is one of the harder realities of my vocation.
As to God, what I have learned is that someone in the vocation of higher education can often do more in poor institutions with little or no reputation than one can in a famous and wealthy one, because God exalts the humble, and because the value system of the earthly city runs counter to that of the City of God, where the first are last and the last are first. My main experience of vocational reward here in Israel has been seeing local Arab Christians really starting to ask their own questions about their own churches and societies and then propose their own answers. Those are the times where I see God at work.
– Dr. Duane Alexander Miller, Academic Dean and Lecturer in Church History and Theology, Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary, Nazareth, Israel
I used to think that I was a compassionate, gentle, and patient person. When I began homeschooling, I thought of all the good I could impart to my children. After the first month, when the initial excitement had died down, I realized that I was neither compassionate nor gentle nor patient. These children — my own flesh and blood — could find those hidden places that no one else knew existed, and could push and prod until I was smoking from the ears. It only took me another few years to more fully realize that at the heart of true learning was relationship, the education of connections, rooted in knowing Grace and Truth as a person. How then could I truly receive grace when I was so full of self?
The good news is that by revealing my faults, God was developing humility in me. Only when I depended on Him could I be the kind of teacher that could shepherd my kids into true learning. I can more readily empathize with my children’s failings, especially when I recognize at they are not the only ones who need constant reminding and repetition as to what is right. How often do I fall into the same habitual sin, and need to come to my Savior! This process has continually humbled me, putting me in a position where I can better receive Christ’s love, power, and provision in time of need.
Curriculum matters in homeschooling, but what matters far more is the slow and steady growing in character and the ability to connect, both vertically and horizontally. In our studies, instead of learning piecemeal, we make connections across subjects because Truth is the common thread underlying all disciplines. As a family living overseas in a region rife with crisis, we have opportunities to deepen the connections by reflecting together on current events, and thinking through our faith within the reality of life in a fallen world. My kids watch how my husband and I handle these situations, how we filter through regional instability, and how our faith in Christ both informs and enables us to walk through these crises. We are all works in progress, and we have the chance to gather our kids together to talk, ask questions, and pray for peace and for decisions affecting our family. They can also see me when I am struggling with anxiety, and I can ask them to pray for me. Again, the focus of real learning is connection, both vertically and horizontally.
One of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is reading aloud to my children. Even my two-year old sits and listens to chapter books that we read aloud together. Through quality literature, we are again relating to experiences, both factual and fictional, and experiencing a kind of incarnation, the fleshing out of ideas, that can both inspire and encourage us towards the Living Word.
When a new homeschooling mother asks me about my seven years of homeschooling experience, I often reply that I think I have learned more than my kids. While home educating is an awesome responsibility, it is also much more of a privilege to witness my own children making connections with the world around them, with others, and with the Lord. After all, we are but vessels in their journey; “all your children shall be taught by the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13).
– Mrs. Adrienne Shore, a homeschooling mother in the Middle East