I was selling some clothes on a second-hand app recently. On this site, it’s normal to pass a couple of messages between buyer and seller. One seller bought something of mine saying,
‘It should be perfect for work when I’m on teaching placement.’
I couldn’t help but reply.
‘I hope you have a great time learning to teach. I loved being a teacher.’
She came back with ‘Thank you. I’m hoping I love it as I want to make a difference to lives.’
People choose to study Education and go into teaching for a range of different reasons. Putting the stresses, strains and school placements aside for a moment, the dream of teaching is a good one.
Humans are hard-wired to bring up their young. We love gaining knowledge and children are sponges for it. The endless capacity of a child to think up new possibilities, and to try them out (regardless of the rules), makes for one of the most engaging careers you could choose.
I’m hoping that right there, in the middle of the all the thinking about the course you’re on, you can see yourself wanting to teach. This might have waivered from time to time, especially if you were thrust into a placement at any point last year.
And if that’s not you at the moment, that’s okay. The ‘this is right’ feeling comes and goes in any uni course and profession. Do read on for some thoughts on why this could be a wonderful place to be.
Wherever you are, as we move off into a fresh year of study and practice in this subject and this industry, let’s re-orientate our thinking and set our course afresh.
‘Cause the Bible Says
You won’t be able to find a paid teacher in the Bible whose job mirrors the current profession we see. It doesn’t mean that the Bible is silent on the topic though. It’s not always the case that we can draw direct lines for how to teach from scripture like, “the bible says ‘a’ so we do it”. But there are plenty of principles which will bleed through every area of our lives, including the lecture theatre and the classroom.
Being a distinctively Christian teachers will vary in how it looks. Sometimes we’ll feel the need to make a stand for what we believe. At many other times it will be the countless, little moments that make the collectively different image of a life lived for God. So let’s consider some principles for why we might end up in the Education world.
- Pass It On In Deuteronomy 5 we can read the account of the Ten Commandments, the key ‘this is how to live’ moment of the Old Testament. Immediately, in Chapter 5 and 6, children are mentioned five times, all in relation to passing on these laws. It is built into the way that God tells us to live, that we should pass on not only good morals, but God’s teaching. We may not always be able to speak the gospel freely, easily and without invitation in schools. But it is inherent to God’s design for humanity, laid out in his instructions to Israel, to teach.
- Look After Where You Are
In Jeremiah we see instructions given to the newly exiled Israel. The opportunity to teach God’s ways may seem far off to you. You may feel more like each day at uni or school is a bit more like living in a foreign country. Listen to what the Israelites are told to do, ‘Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (Jeremiah 29:7) This is an outworking of the original command given to Adam and Eve, in Genesis to ‘tend’ or ‘cultivate’ their garden. Wherever we find ourselves, the consistent task we have is to work our what we can grow there. Despite being in exile, the Israelites could still work, tend, grow and cultivate culture and life.We don’t need to have a stable reason for being in teaching to know our purpose while we are there. And we don’t need to only be speaking the gospel in order for our work to be worthwhile. We are there to cultivate and grow. It is a hard task to find a better, more precious job than to cultivate, tend and be part of the process in growing humans. Teacher, God invites you to work with him here.
- Teaching is Grace As Peter is writing to the church, he tells them to serve others however they can. God designs each human with differing abilities. It is his grace to us that we can teach as it is a skill that we learn, but also a gift. So, when Peter says, ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.’ 1Peter 4:10, he is reminding us that what we do is firstly, an example of God’s grace. You find yourself on a course, or in a job, able to teach. You might not always feel excellent at the job; it is a highly-skilled profession to be learnt over years of practice. That doesn’t mean the gift isn’t there. As Peter says, if you can speak, or care, or instruct, or serve where you find yourself, go and do that. And the thing about God’s grace is that there is always enough. As you spend love care and service here, God will give you more than plenty to keep going.
- And the Gospel? You may be reading this expecting me to talk about proclaiming the gospel and that being the reason we teach. It is, and it isn’t. If we power into schools, determined to use every lesson to talk about Jesus then the Geography, Numeracy or IT Skills we were supposed to deliver may well be left behind. We must teach well, just as, when we write essays at uni, we shouldn’t hijack them to explain the importance of Jesus if we’re meant to be writing about the downfall of a Chinese dynasty. But of course, and wherever we can, we speak. UK law allows a good degree of freedom to respond when asked about our beliefs, even in schools. And our friends ask about Jesus, don’t they? When they know that we care and are for God, and their good, in what we do, they ask about it all. So, let’s speak when we can but let’s teach because it is a gift and an instruction from God too.
Miss in S3
I walked into my classroom on the first day of term at Brighouse High School. I’d passed my PGCE and this was my first job and day and lesson as a real teacher. I had my objective written and classroom code to run through before getting down to teaching for 20 mins and then sending the class off wherever they went next. My shoes were tight.
I stood in front of the first Year 8 English class I’d teach. Around 30 of them, sat behind desks I had arranged, each with a fresh exercise book and some of them with pen in hand, ready to go. The day before I had been Katie, I was now Miss Shaw, or Miss in room S3 as Year 9 Kyle learnt it.
I had put up my displays in anticipation and had big dreams of changing lives for the better. But as I stood there, they saw me and they knew that I was new, and that I didn’t know what I was doing. They thought, I suspect, ‘why is she here?’ and I, for a daunting moment, thought the same.
I stayed for three years before moving to another school. Why was I there? My answer comes in different forms. I love teaching – the actual act of communicating things. I care for young people and enjoy spending time with them. Teaching them well as whole people really matters – you can change lives in the classroom.
But ultimately and underneath – this was the corner of the earth I was called to cultivate. The people God had put me with and the place he has asked me to work. Having that as my basis changed everything. It meant that good days had true goodness at the core of them and the bad days did too.
Being where God puts you, whether or not there was a neon light flashing over it to direct you, is deeply satisfying, and often hard work too! Wherever we find ourselves, we come as ambassadors from a different, very good kingdom. We have human skill to share but we know that we give it only because our heavenly Father has gifted it to us. I taught because of God. And because He can truly make a difference in the lives of those (children, teachers, staff and friends) around me.
This is an excerpt of the Teaching Network seminar Every Child and Teacher Matters from Forum 2021