Previous article in this series: December 15, 2016, p. 124.
Good Christian schools are required of Reformed believers according to the Church Order of Dordrecht, Article 21. Good Christian schools need good Christian school teachers. The eighteen Protestant Reformed schools will continue to seek these high quality teachers. The training of covenant youth demands excellence from every point of view. School boards must be seeking teachers with “high marks” for their ability to teach well, effectively and interestingly. Schools must have teachers with doctrinal understanding of and zeal for the (Protestant) Reformed faith.
As an aside, it should be obvious that school board members who seek these qualifications in teachers must themselves have a very good knowledge and understanding of the Protestant Reformed faith. How can school boards interview and decide on teacher qualifications—doctrinal qualifications—if the members of the boards do not know the doctrines, or are not zealous for them? And how shall they evaluate the current teaching without a sound foundation in doctrine of their own? Perhaps this sheds new light on the qualifications for school board members.
As we have seen, excellent teachers will have the ability to teach and have doctrinal understanding. Those are foundational qualifications. Teachers interpret the Bible. They define and explain doctrines such as the creation, the covenant, grace, love, sin, the atonement, marriage, and the church. Teachers must have a solid biblical and creedal (that is, Reformed) foundation. More, however, is desired. We continue to set forth qualifications for an excellent Protestant Reformed teacher.
Teaching as Calling
An excellent teacher will understand that teaching is a calling. This includes, first, that God calls one to be a teacher. The teacher’s conviction is: “Teaching in a Christian school is my work.1 I will not be satisfied in any other kind of work. My desire to be a teacher is part of my conviction that this is my calling before God.” The work of teaching will not go well for someone who is not called to be a teacher. Either he will soon quit (or be released) and find other employment, or, he will slog along year after year, going through the motions, teaching poorly. The work is extremely demanding mentally, emotionally, and physically. Teaching requires untold hours of preparation, grading, studying, and evaluating, to say nothing of meetings. Truly, the teacher’s work is never finished. He can always do more. Besides, the troubles that a teacher encounters are too numerous, and the earthly rewards (that is, pay) too small. Without a strong sense of calling, a teacher will give up, or become bitter, jaundiced, and unprofitable.
Concerning teaching as calling, secondly, the teacher’s calling extends also to the place, that is, to the school where God calls one to teach. The issue confronts a college graduate when it is time to make applications to the schools. The question burdening the soul must be, “Where will the Lord have me teach?” The teacher will have desires and preferences, but he ought not ordinarily limit his applications or his thinking to one or two schools. To compare it to the seminary graduate, surely no one would expect that a graduate makes his list of the churches and concludes, “These are my top two choices for churches, and surely I will never be a preacher in ___.” And if the college graduate receives contracts from more than one school, the dollar amount is not the deciding factor. Rather, the issue is where the Lord wills that he teach. (Who would want the minister considering a call to make the decision based on the salary offered?) Prayer, reflection on the needs in the respective schools, an honest appraisal of one’s own abilities to fill the needs, and yes, personal circumstances—these will give the graduate the answer he or she is seeking. If you receive a contract from one school only, then you know God’s will.
There may well be times when a teacher is in a school that is not her first choice. But God calls her not only to teach there, but also to exert herself to teach well and effectively. And she does, convicted that God has a purpose and a good work to perform there. Keep in mind that when God calls to a particular labor, God also equips one to perform the work. God creates the individual teacher with the necessary gifts to teach, but also supplies the grace to perform the duties of the calling in the place to which He calls.
The requisite calling to the work means that a man enters the field of education only through much prayer—he pleads with God to direct his way. He must be convicted that God has called him to teach. He looks not for a mystical experience, nor listens for a still small voice. Rather, the call starts with a desire to teach. Then he examines himself for the gifts. He might wisely ask those who know him well (including especially his teachers) to evaluate his gifts for teaching. Perhaps the need for teachers urges him on, and he arrives at the conviction—teaching is my God-given vocation in life.
Only a Teacher
A Reformed believer who is convicted of the call to teaching will then give his life to teaching. This is his first love and delight. He does not want to be a teacher and an insurance salesman; not a teacher and a carpenter; not a teacher and a plumber. He gives himself to the calling God gave him. Completely.
This conviction makes it exceeding difficult to be a mother in the home and a teacher in the school. I have great admiration for mothers who, for the love they have for Protestant Reformed schools and for the covenant youth, have assisted the schools by teaching. The sacrifices that they have made, the strain on them, resulting in strain on the home, family, and marriages—only these godly mothers in Israel and their families know. God has used them and blessed them, their students, and their families.
But this ought not so to be. One of the fundamental objections raised against home schooling is the heavy burdens placed upon the mother, who is responsible for the physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional care of the home and family. How then can it be legitimate to take a mother out of the home to teach in the school? Emergencies arise, and one must guard against radical stands. But these instances where mothers have come out of the home to teach in covenant schools make the need for more teachers all the more obvious, and compelling.
Teachers must desire to be full-time teachers. They want to develop. They need hours, many hours, of study in order to continue growing. They need to read broadly—theology, in education generally, in their area of instruction, and simply, good literature—to develop and stay fresh. A teacher, called by God, desires to be the best teacher he or she can be. Would to God that the schools had the commitment to pay teachers the kind of money that would enable teachers to give their lives—twelve months of the year—to the calling of teaching.
Love for Children
This is the sine qua non of teaching. Do you love covenant children? If you do not, do not go into education. You cannot fake it. You cannot pretend. A teacher cannot possible hide her true feelings for covenant children. They will know. Parents will suspect. God will discern, and judge. Love is not some fuzzy, gushing, smiling, emotional activity on display to impress others. Rather, love is a choice made by a sanctified will, a will that is informed by Scripture. It is a choice to love the children for Christ’s sake, that is, because they are His. Love gives of self. Love seeks the good of others. Love for covenant children in teachers results in astounding self-sacrificing for the good of the youth. It desires their spiritual, emotional, and intellectual development above the wellbeing of self.
Do you love children? Not sure? The test is not hard. Examine your heart and the motives for teaching. Either a man enters teaching for himself—his ego, his personal or professional advancement, his financial advantage; or, he teaches because he loves the covenant youth. Anyone who is considering teaching must be able to answer this question: Is it for me, or for them?
100% of the Time
A teacher is a teacher 100% of the time. The position of a Christian school teacher is as close to an office in the church as one can have. A teaching position is much like a minister of the gospel in this respect. A minister is not always preaching, teaching, or preparing sermons. He has free time, relaxing time. He might shop in the store, sit at the beach, or attend a basketball game. But he is, 100% of the time, a minister. The people view him that way.
Likewise, a teacher. He cannot act a fool or live in immorality, and then say, “But I did not do that when I was teaching! That was my free time.” No, a teacher is a teacher 100% of the time. Folly and sin in his life will do immeasurable damage to his effectiveness and may well result in his deserved dismissal.
Also like a minister, a teacher is “on call.” His “after school” hours are not “his own.” He is a servant of the parents, desiring to serve the covenant youth. Complete devotion, 100%.
You are thinking about pursuing the calling of teaching. Stop for a moment and answer these questions. Do you know how to work? Do you enjoy working hard? In teaching, there is no substitute for hard work. Admittedly, in all fields of labor hard work is a good thing, usually advantageous to the diligent worker. The general rule is that a hard worker will grow and improve in what he does, and thus will advance. Yet in other fields, any number of workers get by, allow others to pick up the slack, and life goes on with a minimum of effort.
Not so in teaching. Day after day after day, the teacher stands before a classroom of students. They are watching, waiting, and listening. The time has come. The teacher must teach. He must have a lesson prepared. He must give the information, interpret it, and apply it. If he has not done his work adequately, he has nothing worthwhile to say. Or having failed to grow by new studies, what he says is old, tired, and uninspiring. And he has no one to pick up the slack. He will fail.
Teaching, excellent teaching, requires hard work and long hours. A lack of work will result in a lack of development as a teacher. That lack of development will produce boring, lack-luster instruction. And that, in turn, kills the joy of teaching. A teacher who will not work hard, year after year, day after day, hour after hour, will not experience the joy of teaching.
Surely more can be said about teacher qualifications; and experienced teachers and administrators could add much to this list. A good teacher enjoys learning. A good teacher knows and uses good grammar. A good teacher is spiritually minded—he loves God, His Word, and is interested in spiritual things. And so the list could grow. We stop here with some of the essentials. The intent is that a young person can consider this and face the question— do I have these qualifications? And others can spot youth with these qualities and encourage them seriously to consider teaching.
Why is all this required in teachers in Protestant Reformed schools? Is the “bar” set too high? The requirements too stringent? No, far from it. For two reasons: on the one hand, the children instructed, and on the other, the material taught.
First, the children instructed are the future of the church. They are to be reared in the fear of the Lord. They are being prepared for life in the covenant home, the church, and in society. In all areas of life, they will live as God’s covenant people. If the children are not prepared to live as God’s people in all spheres of life, the church itself will suffer significant damage, if it continues to exist.
But there is more. The children, covenant children, are God’s children. Ultimately, they are not the parents’; they are God’s. Into whose hands will you commit your beloved sons and daughters to be taught, disciplined, and directed? That would be cause for care and concern enough. But into whose care and keeping will you commit God’s children? Before God, parents must give answer: “What did you do with My children?” Can we set the bar too high?
The other reason for the high demands and qualifications is the material to be taught. This is the exceedingly difficult part of being a Protestant Reformed teacher. When we grasp this, we will understand the need not only for excellence in teachers, but also the necessity for training our teachers.
… to be continued.
1 Recall that in reference to the schools I use the terms “Christian” or “Protestant Reformed” interchangeably. The schools referenced in these articles are those established by members of Protestant Reformed congregations. At the same time, the qualifications set forth for a Christian school teacher have broader application than merely to teachers in these schools.