". . .the word of God is not bound." II Tim. 2:9b

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Decompartmentalization, an important struggle for the Christian teacher

One of the discussions we have in my session called Faith and the Public School Teacher centers around the idea of decompartmentalization. Okay, the dictionary says it's not a word, and it certainly is unwieldy, but it serves a purpose.

In my own words, decompartmentalization means something along the lines of "ceasing to place things in separate compartments," or "rethinking concepts that were formerly seen as separate so that they are seen as part of a unified whole."

Think of dresser drawers.

When I started out as a teacher in the public school system, I struggled to know whether my Christian faith should be kept separate from my professional life. If my life were a dresser, I'd be wondering whether my yoga pants belonged in the same drawer as my jeans. I wasn't sure if I should be telling students I would pray for them, inviting new staff members to my church, or reading a nativity picture book aloud in class.

Now that I have wrestled with the question of where my First Amendment rights begin and end, I feel more confident to decide questions like these. I see my life less and less like a dresser with many separate drawers and more and more like a wardrobe that contains all of my clothes, every item of which expresses my style. I am who I am. I am a Christian; I teach in a public school. To try to leave part of myself home in some compartment destroys my integrity, my wholeness.

There may be many times during a school week when a Christian teacher must essentially submit to her students and cherish their First Amendment rights over her own. But that doesn't mean she has to be someone she's not.

I hope teachers will think through the question of decompartmentalization for themselves. Certainly there are those who will see it another way. For me, I need to work toward having fewer compartments in my conception of my life, my self.

Matthew 5:37, Psalm 26:11, Titus 2:7-8, and Colossians 3:23-24 offer biblical perspectives on walking in integrity.

Know another Christian teacher in the public schools? Pass it on. You can also find me on Facebook.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Faith and the Public School Teacher at the Idaho Education Super Conference

"I thank my God always. . .that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge. . ." I Corinthians 1:4-5

Today at the Education Super Conference in Boise, I had the pleasure of enriching others and being enriched by them in my session, Faith and the Public School Teacher. There were about 25 attendees, and they eagerly shared their thoughts on what it means to be a teacher of faith working in the public school environment.

Some perspectives from our discussion:

  • One attendee said it was her faith that caused her to enter the teaching profession in the first place. So many of us feel a strong sense of calling to be where we are, doing what we do.
  • When questions of religion and faith come up in class, teachers must answer ethically and honestly. One attendee stated that when explaining viewpoints on the origins of life in his science class, he makes sure that students understand that the areas of controversy are small. On so many areas of science, consensus is easy.
  • A kindergarten teacher in today's session pointed out that the age of students matters when a teacher is determining whether to make her faith public. High school students may be able to understand that their teacher, while employed by a government entity, holds religious views not endorsed by the government. Kindergarten students, though, often can't make that kind of distinction.
  • One high school teacher suggested that teachers of faith "always offer students an out." Teachers cannot give the impression that a student's views are not valid or that the teacher's own religious views are right or more valid than other views.
  • It pays to be peaceable. One attendee told of a student who asked to be given an alternate assignment for religious reasons. The teacher handled the matter peaceably, satisfying the student's concerns rather than escalating them.
Some classroom-ready strategies we used:
  • Agreement statements
    • Teacher reads statements
    • Students move to one of three places in the room: agree, somewhat agree/somewhat disagree, or disagree
    • Teacher facilitates discussion throughout, noting especially when a few loners stand alone; why?
  • Close reading
    • All students receive a copy of the text
    • Teacher offers text-annotation strategies, such as writing a question mark beside text portions the student would like to know more about
    • Students silently read and annotate the text
    • Teacher facilitates discussion; often, text-based questions are used to keep the discussion focused on the words of the text throughout
  • Group and share
    • Students form groups of three to five
    • All students read the text
    • Groups discuss the text
    • A member of the group shares with the whole class
  • Student readers
    • When presenting a slideshow, the teacher invites students to read slides
    • This strategy reduces the monotony of having just one speaker, and it helps keep students engaged
Not only were this session and the conference as a whole a huge blessing to me, but on the drive home I had the chance to mull over some of the questions I still have about the enormous topic of Faith and the Public School Teacher. The Lord has opened the way for me to begin work on my master's degree. Will working on my degree help me answer some of my questions? I can't wait to find out how.

Would your school staff like to learn more about what it means to be a teacher of faith in the public school setting? I would love to present Faith and the Public School Teacher for professional development at your school. Contact Amy Ballard by email at amy@ amyballard .com (just remove the spaces). You can also connect with me on Facebook.