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By this time, school boards have offered contracts for teaching positions in our Protestant Reformed Christian schools. Decisions have been made to sign those contracts. Most positions have likely been filled. If that is true, we may be very thankful.

But there may yet be open positions. Of that, some schools will be painfully aware. And more vacancieswill certainly be created by retirements, female teachers becoming “keepers at home,” and the ever-expanding number of classrooms in  our growing schools. There is also the encouraging creation or expansion of special education programs, which take more teachers and special training.

We need good Christian school teachers. Many of them.

My motivation to write is partly, but strongly, personal. My wife and I love our good Christian schools because of our ownership in them for many years as parents and now grandparents of children in these schools. All our children had the high privilege to be taught by good Christian school teachers whose faith and commitment to godly living mirrored our commitments and faith—a privilege I did not have in my youth, and a privilege not all have today. For twenty-five years we joyfully attended parent-teacher conferences, in part to express deepest gratitude to these dedicated servants for their work. Certainly our support for the schools was mixed with weakness, but we supported them in the keen conviction that this was our high calling as Christian parents. Hundreds of other parents have done this as well. Besides the cause of Christ’s church, there are few causes as dear to our hearts as our schools. We thank God for the good schools and teachers. Our own parental (and now “grandparental”) hearts yearn for good teachers until Christ returns.

But my motivation to write about the need for teachers is deeper than personal love for the schools and teachers. The health of the churches is related to the good training of our children. We need good schools and good school teachers who will stand in the place of parents carrying out their parental, covenantal responsibility—for the sake of the churches. If the parents do not carry out this rich covenant calling of maintaining our schools, the churches will soon disintegrate. I write for the sake of the churches.

Young men and women in the churches, this is a summons to give yourselves for the sake of the schools! I beseech you, consider the need to train to be a teacher of the churches’ covenant children.

Gifts

A good teacher needs at least two natural gifts, intelligence and the aptitude to teach. A teacher must be intelligent, that is, able to think carefully and understand deeply, especially in the particular field he or she teaches. The aptitude to teach includes so much that it may better be witnessed than described. It combines the ability to make truth understood, to all of the students (not just the intelligent ones), with conviction, all the while managing an energetic group of sinful children or young people…and with a good attitude. It’s clear that an aptitude to teach is a gift not everyone possesses, although a good teachers’ college will help a prospective teacher develop the gift if he has it.

A better teachers’ college—a good Reformed teachers’ college—could teach the teacher to apply the Christian and Reformed faith to all the subjects and to every aspect of the Christian life. Public universities cannot and will not train in this. Many Christian colleges may try, but often have an improper perspective on the application of the faith to all of life, if they even have the Reformed or Christian faith correct.

Someday God may give our schools the blessing of a teachers’ college. In the meantime, the important seminar (“On Reformed Christian Education”) taught in the Grand Rapids area for many years by Mr. Jon Huisken, and now taught by another former school teacher, Prof. Russell Dykstra, should be a “must take.” Some effort could be made both to supplement this course with others like it, and to make this course available to teachers outside the Grand Rapids area.

But let us not rule out the possibility of some visionaries seeing to the funding of and construction of such a college. May some Christians include such a cause in their wills, and may men and women who love Christian education give sacrificially of their time and energy. A small beginning would not even need a building, a large number of instructors, and certainly not a full four-year curriculum.

A good teacher will also have many spiritual gifts. Natural gifts are not sufficient for a Christian school teacher. Just as in the gospel ministry, a massive intelligence and great aptitude to teach may be useless, even worse than useless, if they are not paired with humility, godliness, spirituality. Spiritual gifts are developed over the years, very likely in a strong Christian home. They include sincere love for God’s cause and truth, an experiential knowledge of the Reformed faith, a commitment to covenant children, a deep and genuine will to sacrifice as a servant for the families in whose stead he works, and a full knowledge of and commitment to the PRC. This—Protestant Reformed—is what I, the parent, am. It is what the teacher must be: fully informed and fully committed to the Reformed faith.

One spiritual dimension of teaching in the Christian school is the conviction that teaching is a calling. Be clear, teaching is a calling of God, for which God specially qualifies. I urge the young men and women who consider teaching to talk to older teachers about this important reality for teachers: the growing but important conviction that because God has formed his mind and soul for this high task in the kingdom, it is a work he cannot turn from. This doesn’t mean that it would be a sin for anyone to leave the teaching profession; it only means that the teacher will be so aware of God’s gifts and the schools’ needs that he feels a compulsion he can hardly resist.

Spiritual gifts include the grace to rear the children. One unique characteristic of a good Christian school is that its teachers see their calling to function largely as parents. Teachers stand in loco parentis. And no parent is satisfied with mere intellectual growth. A teacher needs wisdom to teach about Christian friendships and about the relationship between boys and girls, and must have the will and wisdom to discipline. Teaching is a parental occupation. So I’m neither surprised nor offended when teachers refer to the students as “my children.” In a very important way, they are. We were always grateful to see this reality: the fatherly/motherly promotion of godliness, and the patient, sympathetic, and humble treatment of our children’s weaknesses. The teachers understood what it meant to rear the children.

Hesitation

Not everyone is qualified to teach. But some who are qualified may not know it, or may see obstacles they judge to be too great to overcome.

Finances ought not be an obstacle. Most of our teachers, although they are not overpaid, receive sufficient to support themselves, the church, and the poor. The careful work of school boards and the generous gifts of the supporters have made this possible. If a man is not satisfied with a teacher’s wage, he may lack one important qualification. One wise teacher gave me his take on wage: the average teacher retires neither opulent nor destitute, and perhaps even better off than most because teachers tend to be prudent money managers. However that may be, I want to thank publically the teachers willing to receive a wage not commensurate with their training and abilities.

Others hesitate because they fear criticism that comes with the position of “public servant.” As I was preparing for the ministry, my father, who spent his life as a public servant—both as a teacher, a civil servant, and a long-time elder—told me bluntly, if not in these precise words, “Expect it. It comes with the territory.” It takes thick skin to be a teacher. Not everyone is able to receive criticism—either legitimate or unwise. A warning can be issued to all of us here. Careless criticism will drive away the bad teachers, but good ones too. It will make some cynical, others fearful. In the end, improperly placed criticism hurts the critic. It will damage the critic’s children. Worst, it undermines the cause of Christian education. It’s “spitting into the wind.” But a good teacher must be able to take criticism. The Lord even teaches them to profit through humble response to criticism. Remember David’s response to Shimei’s murderous slander: “So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David.”

There’s also legitimate criticism. School boards and principals will regularly assess a teacher’s work. What they miss, parents may address. A good teacher will grow from listening carefully to all critical analysis of his work. It’s in the nature of being a servant.

Then there is the weight of the work. Teaching is strenuous, time-consuming, demanding in so many respects. I suppose a teacher with a few years in can rest on his old lesson plans. One of our former seminary professors warned us that an older minister might get away with being lazy. But a teacher who is serious about his work will find it taxing, if not grueling. Besides the long hours of preparation and grading outside normal school hours, the emotional energy needed to care for the dear children is great. It makes me think of what Paul said when he explained the burdens of his ministry (see II Corinthians 11:23-28). I paraphrase: “Besides those external troubles—shipwrecks, beatings, hunger, cold, assaults, and sleepless nights on a plank in the sea—there is the anxiety I have for all the churches” (where anxiety is not inaccurate). Like parents, teachers carry the children in their hearts.

So it’s no more permissible to say that teachers work but six hours per day and nine months per year than it is to joke that ministers work only one day a week. Good teachers will be exhausted, emotionally and physically. Let no slackers apply.

But God will raise up young men and women with the desire to teach, and then give them the necessary gifts.

He’ll also reward them richly, both in this life and in the life to come.

Let the churches do all in their power to encourage their capable sons and daughters to prepare themselves.

Next time, let me offer concrete ways our covenant communities can do that.