From Chapter 3 Teaching Christianly: Job or calling or what?

First things first

You are in the kitchen and you have decided to make a fine spinach souffle your specialty. You have put on your apron and set out the ingredients. First you crack the eggs, separate and beat them. Without egg whites, properly fluffed, no souffle.

Reaching an understanding of teaching Christianly is a bit like preparing a spinach souffle. You need a variety of ingredients, and some of these serve as a base, as it were, for the final product. Teaching Christianly cannot be defined by a glib one-liner or an empty slogan any more than that a splendid spinach souffle results from tossing an egg into a bowl full of greens.

Or, to use another picture, building your understanding of teaching Christianly is like building a barn: you need footings and foundations to build on, and the work requires time, effort, and plenty of construction material. One indispensable cornerstone for building our understanding is the important theme of the calling, task, and office of the Christian teacher.

Ask yourself: Is teaching just a job, something to do to earn a living? Well, yes, you say, in a way it is. After all, you need bread and milk and spinach and eggs in your kitchen. You could even see teaching as a good job: It comes with long vacations, an improving wage scale, and community recognition—all pretty fair benefits, to be sure. Yet in your heart you know that these benefits are really only fringe benefits. For a Christian teacher, teaching is always much more than merely a job.

When students come into my education classes, I routinely ask them why they want to become teachers. In my graduate classes I ask: Why did you become a teacher? I am always intrigued by the answers the students give me. Their reasons vary. Many talk about their love of children or their fascination with a certain subject. Some mention the summer breaks. Still others admit that they became teachers because they simply did not know what else to do! They became teachers by default, as it were.

But when I ask all these folks to identify the one, single, most compelling reason for entering the teaching profession, I frequently hear—to my delight, I must say—that they feel called to be teachers.

From Chapter 6 Discovering your metaphor: What is your teaching style?

Metaphors of teaching and classrooms

Recently, in my curriculum and instruction class, I asked my students to describe in a single word the style of one of their elementary or high school teachers. The suggestions were not slow in coming. "My teacher was a bear," one student reported. "Not mine," another declared, "mine was a clown!" Others saw their teachers as a drill sergeant, a tease, a spy, a preacher, a robot, or a judge. Still other students were more complimentary: they suggested metaphors such as a mother, a friend, or an older sister or brother.

Metaphors of this sort are a shortcut to describe a dominant teaching style. The metaphor captures one or two essential features of a teacher's style. It is exactly this point, of course, that makes metaphors of teaching reductionistic and unreliable. One or two words do not begin to describe the complexity of your teaching style. Nevertheless, the use of metaphors is quite serviceable in trying to understand your style. They prompt self-reflection. Ask yourself how your students will think of you and describe you ten years from now. How do you want to be remembered as a teacher?

Each metaphor can be expanded into a more detailed description. The metaphor of a drill sergeant, for example, suggests a teacher who is authoritarian, loud, inflexible, insensitive, and aggressive. The metaphor of a mother, on the other hand, points to a teacher who is tender, loving, caring, sacrificing, and occasionally strict and demanding. One future teacher in my curriculum class thought of herself as a tree: deep roots securely anchored in the knowledge of a Christian perspective on life, spreading branches to keep the class comfortable, twigs and leaves hiding a multitude of interesting creatures to learn about. To amplify metaphors in this way is surely a useful, reflective exercise. You might take a moment to find a metaphor that you think identifies your teaching style and expand it into a series of descriptive adjectives. Or, if you dare, ask your students to do this for you.

From Chapter 16 How can I teach all my students when they are so different? Celebrating individual gifts and meeting individual needs

Can we overstress community?

In one of my workshops on the collaborative classroom, a teacher raised an interesting and important point. He put it somewhat like this: "While I appreciate all the stress you're putting on cultivating a collaborative community, sir, your talk also troubles me. You see, my problem is not so much how to establish community. It's just the reverse. My problem is every single individual kid. I just don't see how all this talk about community is going to help me meet the specific needs of every student in my classroom. In fact, sir—and let me put it to you gently—I think that your emphasis will make it even more difficult for us teachers to meet these needs. In the kind of classroom you advocate, isn't every unique kid simply going to blend into a communal whole? How come I haven't heard you say much about individualizing instruction, of working with one kid at a time, of making sure that no single child falls through the cracks?"

The question triggered some sober reflection. Yes, I concluded, my heavy emphasis on collaboration and community could easily cloud the role and significance of the individual student. So I asked myself: Have I said too little about the nature and meaning of individualized instruction and personalized learning? Have I unwittingly fostered an imbalance—perhaps even a tension—between community and the individual person? Indeed, have my missiles aimed at individualism bombed out individuality as well?

If I have left this impression, I stand to be corrected. Let me put it plainly: Individualized instruction and personalized learning are absolutely indispensable in my classroom and in yours. After all, as Christian teachers we are to express deep concern and uninterrupted care for each one of our students. Since each one of our students is unique and differently gifted, it is our Christian obligation to provide classroom conditions in which each child can flourish as an individual.

So we face a problem: Since individualized instruction encourages students to work in relative independence and stresses a measure of "self-sufficiency," how can such instruction and personalized learning fit into a collaborative, service-oriented classroom? How can we construct a classroom environment in which communal and individual concerns are not in tension with each other? Let's explore this question.

Is this a situation you can relate to? Want to know Van Dyk's response? Read the rest of The Craft of Christian Teaching!