I had a conversation with a teacher friend of mine recently. At the private Christian school where this teacher works, support personnel (i.e. speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, learning specialists, etc.) are not employed by the school. They are either hired by the parents or are provided by the public system to ensure that children with identified disabilities (and individualized education plans) receive the necessary adaptations and services that will allow them to genuinely access and profit from their education. My teacher friend decided one day to ask one of these specialists (who was not a believer) if the Christian school where they both worked was any different than the public schools where the specialist was also employed.
The specialist's response was surprising.
As a nonChristian outsider, the specialist said that the parents with their focus on protecting marriage and the nuclear family as well as their involvement in the school and the lives of their children was definitely different. This individual also remarked that students were, in general, more obedient, polite and respectful - although certainly not perfect. Textbooks, teaching materials and lessons also often reflected the different worldview of those adhering to the Christian faith. All of that is exactly what we would expect to hear.
So, what's so surprising?
It was the final question. My friend then asked the specialist if there was anything different about the teachers at the Christian school.
"No, not really," the specialist replied.
As a teacher, a Christian teacher, one who has worked in both public, private and international settings, my only response was: "Ouch!" And - I was deeply convicted.
I can easily (and more or less logically) explain away the specialist's observation:
- Most who enter the field of teaching do so because they care about children, want to see them grow and thrive, reach their potential and perhaps, someday, help make our world a better place. As all have been created in the image of God, this is clearly God's image shining through -certainly possible even in someone who does not yet follow him.
- Good teaching practices are good teaching practices and we can't expect Christian schools to be the only ones using them.
- This specialist did not understand because s/he did not have the Holy Spirit helping him/her to interpret what s/he saw.
- The specialist responded with his/her own personal agenda, perhaps less than truthfully.
Or, I (or we - Christian teachers) could ask God to reveal if there is something we need to change in Christian education.
Of course, that's a dangerous question.
What if an honest answer reveals that I need to change?
What if the problem is not simply the content of the education, but rather the process by which I'm communicating that content?
(five minute timer sounded here)
As a Christian teacher, I should be concerned about excellence: end results - excellence, observable and measurable; behavior that adheres to Christian principles and traditions. But does this drive for excellence render other important qualities expendable? Do I control (i.e. by rules and regulation and suffocating supervision) so much that I take away occasions for my students to choose and then experience the results and/or consequences of their choices? Do I model service and sacrifice while never giving my students opportunity to do the same? Do I continually demand performance, never allowing my students to experience grace demonstrated?
What if that specialist never saw the difference in school staff because s/he did not see people who loved the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and mind AND people who loved their neighbors (other staff and personnel, students, parents) as themselves. Jesus was the one who said to his disciples: ""By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13.35, NASB)
Yes, I'm tired.
I'm tired of people who should know better - whose first response is defensive, striving to justify the status quo, clinging to past and present traditions and never willing to consider that maybe they need to change. I'm tired of Christians who walk in fear and who thus can't consider the testimony, observations or suggestions of others "outside the fold." Yes, greater is He that is in us than he who is in the world... and we forget that God has spoken truth in many ways - His Word, His Son, His prophets, His creation, His people... even a pagan king and a donkey.
And I'm tired of always having to battle that exact same impulse in moi-même each time I'm confronted with yet another incongruity in my life, family and ministry.