The beginning of a new school year is a good time to reflect on how we, as educators, can continue to sharpen our skills and our understanding of the fine art of successful instruction. All of us, especially those who have been in the classroom for a number of years, know how easy it is to begin a new year by pulling out our teaching notes from last year or from several years ago. Teaching is hard work; it is emotionally draining, and sometimes its rewards seem thin indeed. So sometimes the temptation to stick with the “tried and true” is hard to resist.
And yet, to do what one educator called (undoubtedly with some hyperbole) “teaching your first year twenty times over” is clearly not something that will serve us or our students well. Teaching is certainly hard work, but to settle deeply into a routine of doing the same thing over and over is deadening to the passion and spirit of any teacher. It is not difficult to see that a teacher whose passion and spirit have died will also be incapable of instilling the joy of learning in his or her students.
So, if you have begun the year with a small sense of dismay or even gloom, looking ahead with some apprehension to long days of teaching and longer nights of planning and grading, rather than with a sense of excitement and joy, allow me to share some recent experiences and readings that I have found profoundly encouraging.
Some months ago, I spent ten days in the Dominican Republic, working on behalf of EduDeo (formerly Worldwide Christian Schools Canada) with a group of teachers and administrators from two Christian school networks in that country. These are educators who often work in very difficult circumstances with students from very disadvantaged backgrounds. But as we worked together on pedagogy, on the integration of Christian worldview in teaching content, and on issues around classroom management, I was profoundly impressed by their dedication and their enthusiasm. They were deeply committed to finding better ways of engaging students and strengthening their students’ faith. I was reminded that teaching at its best, even when it is challenging and even when we are discouraged, is a path for changing students and changing the world. Educators, especially those in Christian schools, have the privilege of walking with students as they open their eyes and hearts more fully to the reality that this is God’s world, and that, as God’s gifted people, they have the ability and opportunity to bring God’s healing power more fully into the lives of those around them.
One of the books I read this summer was Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning, edited by David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith (Eerdmans, 2011). This excellent book offers a series of essays that examine pedagogical practices in Christian school classrooms. While its primary focus is education at the college level, I believe it is an excellent resource for all Christian educators. It examines a wide range of classroom practises that reflect attempts by Christian educators to consider how they do their work in the classroom in the light of Christian understandings of how faith and spiritual growth happen. The book is not light reading, but for educators who are searching for ways to sharpen their understanding of pedagogy and instruction in the light of biblical insights, it is an excellent resource. Even in the busyness of a school year, the book’s organization into separate but related essays makes it manageable. This is a book that could encourage excellent staff room discussions about the work that we do every day as educators.
And finally, I was introduced to a new web site, which was developed jointly by the Stapleford Centre in the UK, the Anglican Education Commission in Australia, and the Kuyers Institute at Calvin College. To quote from the Web site:
“What If Learning” is a “distinctively Christian” approach developed by an international partnership of teachers from Australia, the UK, and the USA. It is based on the premise that a Christian understanding of life makes a difference in what happens in classrooms. Its aim is to equip teachers like you to develop their distinctively Christian teaching and learning strategies for their own classrooms.
The focus of the site is pedagogical practices in Christian school classrooms and it “explores what teaching and learning might look like when rooted in Christian faith, hope, and love.” It is filled with numerous examples in many different disciplines of how the Christian faith can shape our understanding of instructional practices and the way students learn. It also includes many very practical suggestions to stimulate conversation and learning among educators. This is also an excellent resource for teachers and I encourage you to visit the site and have a look around. You will find the experience and the search deeply rewarding.
As we begin a new school year, let’s encourage each other to be the best educators we can be. The students entrusted to our care deserve no less as we work with them to better understand God’s world and God’s call to us to serve in it.