Called to teach and to build
Phyllis Alberts-Meijers knew as a high school student at Unity Christian in Orange City, Iowa, that she wanted to attend Dordt College. She also knew that she wanted to teach in high school. Deciding what she wanted to teach was a little more challenging. "I remained undeclared for a few weeks until I got a super great response from Dr. Schaap on a paper I wrote on Buddhism. Ok-let's go with English!" said Alberts-Meijers.
She majored in secondary education and English. Over her 22 years of teaching, she has taught more subjects than English, including home economics, civics, food and nutrition, science, drama, and religion. "We call those years 'resume builders,'" she said.
Much of her teaching career has forced her to continue working out her worldview and has deepened her commitment to Christian education.
Her first teaching position was in Toronto District Christian High School, where she stayed for 12 years. After that, she began supply teaching in the public school in Barrie, Ontario. Public school brought new challenges for Alberts-Meijers, where she grew frustrated with the disconnect between faith and life.
"My students had questions that cut to the heart of what was missing in so many of their lives, and my responses were entirely unsatisfactory," said Alberts-Meijers. "Those years led me to understand my strength in teaching: showing my students how in Christ, all things hold together. So when the Catholic board offered me a temporary position, I went with joy."
At St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Barrie, Alberts-Meijers' theological perspective continued to be shaped. "Being forced to verbalize your faith to people who do not assume the same things as you, in fact, don't even always speak the same religion as you-well, it changed me. My colleagues realized I was different. They saw me integrating my faith into all aspects of my teaching and they were intrigued. The teaching practices that I witnessed in my own education and that I was taught at Dordt went from being an assumed part of my life, to being something that I could share with colleagues who had not seen it actually work."
Being able to discuss faith openly with students kept Alberts-Meijers motivated in her career. "Sharing the story of redemption with teenagers who are so desperate to hear some good news is powerfully invigorating. Revealing systematic philosophies to senior students who are keen and critical, but often entirely ungrounded in biblical truths, is challenging and energizing."
She is realistic about how draining teaching and working with students can be, but believes that what she gathered from her own education continues to help her begin the next morning with a fresh start.
"I can't say I remember one particular lesson where Dr. John Van Dyk, Dr. Eugene Westra, or Dr. Mike Vanden Bosch said, 'You need to remember that each child is loved by God, and you must model forgiveness always.' But I sure learned that from them. That is the best kind of education: when you are sure of what you've experienced, but you can't really find it back in your notes. That happened often at Dordt."
Recently, she and a group of residents began the work of establishing a Christian high school in Barrie, Ontario. The founders agreed that they felt called by God to make this dream a reality. Their work continues and a building has been purchased to house the school.
But big endeavors like this one don't happen easily, as the group quickly discovered. "We have experienced over and over again that God always gives us enough to keep us on our knees. To this day the knees of the Unity folks are often bleeding, trust me. But we are confident that our task falls within God's will."
As for the future of the school and Christian education in general, Alberts-Meijers is entirely optimistic. "Like I tell my students, a philosophy will last when it makes good sense. Christian education makes sense to me."