Christians Teaching in Public Schools:
The Ministry of Care
This Issues explores some of the dilemmas surrounding Christians and public schools today. Readers will consider current applications of Christians’ engagement in public schools. As a result, one of the question that will beg to be asked is, “Should the church’s universities engage in preparing teachers for public schools?”
The reality is that the church’s universities do prepare teachers for public schools through their education programs that are specifically for those who desire to teach in public schools. Additionally, many of those whom the universities prepare to teach in Lutheran or Christian schools often become teachers and/or administrators in public schools due to a wide range of circumstances. In my mind, the question is not “Should,” but “How should Christian universities engage in preparing teachers for public schools?”
My perspective is a result of my experiences in preparing teachers for Lutheran, Christian, and public schools for the past ten years. Before I started working in teacher preparation, I taught in Lutheran schools for twenty years. These experiences shape my beliefs about what is important in the formation of teachers for Lutheran, Christian, and/or public schools. I am a problem-solving practitioner who intentionally works to prepare the most effective teachers possible.
The presence of Christian people as leaders of children and young adults in public school classrooms is a means of influencing society for Christ. But the culture of public schools is different now than it has been in decades past. As this culture has and continues to separate itself from the values of Christianity, the church’s universities should be intentional about preparing Christians to teach in public schools so that they can continue to influence society for Christ. Being intentional means that faculty who develop and teach in these education programs avoid making assumptions that the Christians who are preparing to serve as public school teachers will glean what behaviors and practices are important from their preparation.
When considering the question of how the church’s universities should engage in the preparation of teachers for public schools, the faculty must intentionally focus on the formation of the whole person as teacher. Educational research should inform faculty as they intentionally plan and implement academic experiences in coursework and practical experiences in schools that are necessary to prepare effective teachers. Some of these experiences are specific to preparing teachers for Lutheran schools, some are specific to preparing teachers for Christian schools, and some are specific to preparing teachers for public schools. These academic and practical experiences extend beyond providing a knowledge base for the teacher. If the church’s education programs are going to be intentional about public school teachers influencing society for Christ, they must grow understandings, mold behaviors, and sharpen the skills of the public school teachers they are preparing.
A framework for these understandings, behaviors, and skills centers around the concept of care: care for others, care for teaching and care for self. This concept of care is supported by a comprehensive research base. The following list gives examples of specific understandings, behaviors and skills that demonstrate care. (Each inclusion is concise and invites further amplification.)
Care for Others
Establish daily habits that demonstrate value for each individual. Greet individuals by name and with a smile. Ask caring questions about their well-being.
Build positive relationships with students, families, colleagues, and support staff. Christians influence others for Christ and have opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ through their relationships.
Interact respectfully with people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Willingness to learn about cultures and show regard for them makes a positive impact on relationships.
Reflect upon one’s own interactions with students, families, colleagues and support staff. Work toward sharing the love of Christ with every person through each small interaction. Reflection about past interactions prepares one to improve upon interactions in the future.
Care for Teaching
Teach with excellence. Approaching the tasks of teaching with commitment to do one’s very best every day. Consider this to be stewardship of vocation.
Expect every student to learn. Engage every student in the learning. Coach every student to learn.
Know when and how to witness to Christ in public schools. Know the legalities that set limitations on witnessing. Recognize opportunities to share Christ. Be ready to witness.
Care for Self
Faithfully practice daily Christian habits. Make time to pray, read Scripture, worship, serve. Be actively involved in a Christian congregation.
Seek out other Christians who serve in public schools. A Christian colleague, especially one with successful experience in public schools, may provide significant benefits to a new teacher.
Seek advocates. Circumstances may arise that cause the public school teacher to need others for defense or advocacy. Be prepared to ask for help.
Recruit family, friends, and other Christians to pray. Share specific prayer needs. Trust in God to answer prayers.
An additional thought…
It will serve these Christian teachers in public schools well if the church’s universities sustain lasting professional relationships with them throughout their careers. Such relationships could lead to developing networks of support for these teachers. Being connected to the place that sent them out will be of value in helping Christian teachers sustain their work in public schools and strengthen their influence for Christ.
The church’s universities must be intentional about preparing Christian teachers for public schools. Academic and practical experiences that model, investigate and teach the understandings, behaviors and skills associated with care should be integrated into education programs. I pray that each of these teachers influences society for Christ as they demonstrate care every day.
Lorinda L. Sankey, Ph.D.
Head of Teacher Education, Associate Dean, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, Concordia University, Nebraska