Previous article in this series: December 1, 2016, p. 100.
The need is obvious. Over 2,100 students in eighteen schools. Growth and expansion, common. Teaching positions not filled in the current school year, and more openings coming for the 2017-18 school year. The point of these articles is to stress the importance of the cause of covenant education represented by the Protestant Reformed Christian schools, and the need for the youth seriously to consider before God whether they are called to the kingdom work of teaching. The previous editorial began to treat these matters.
This editorial will step up to a higher level. What the schools need is not merely college graduates with education majors to fill openings, mere bodies in the classroom. Rather, these Protestant Reformed schools need excellent Protestant Reformed teachers in the classroom. The heart of the Christian school is the Christian teacher. If the teacher has the qualifications for teaching, is dedicated to the Reformed faith, and loves the children, the Christian school is an inestimable blessing to the covenant homes. On the other hand, if the teacher lacks any of the above, the school is in trouble, and the school can be a burden to these homes.
In their history, Protestant Reformed schools have had some of both kinds of teachers. In the providence and grace of God, the schools have had far, far more teachers who were a blessing to the schools. From my own experience— as a student, parent, and colleague—I will testify that Protestant Reformed schools are blessed with godly teachers who are innovative, energetic, interesting, involved, and imaginative. They strive to make their subjects live for their students—“their” covenant children. Excellent teachers.
What does it take to be an excellent Protestant Reformed school teacher? Realizing that the answer to this involves some subjectivity, I will nonetheless set forth some qualifications that I judge to be requisite for a quality teacher in a Protestant Reformed school.
First, he or she must possess the ability to teach. That should be rather obvious, but it must be recognized. Most people somewhere in their education have had an instructor who could not teach well. The classic example is the college professor who obviously knows his field but is not able to teach it effectively. A teacher is a communicator. He must be able to communicate effectively to his students. This involves the ability to organize material logically. A good teacher is able to grasp the main points of the material to be taught, and recognize which are the subordinate ones. He is able, then, to communicate the ideas in a way that is understandable to others. That in turn requires a good Previous article in this series: De- command of the language and the awareness of the level at which the instruction should be given, which is to say, at the level appropriate for the particular students.
In addition, the ability to teach demands some leadership qualities. A teacher must have the confidence to stand before people and speak to them with some authority. An individual who wilts before the stares or glares or impudent looks of an audience will not be able to teach effectively. Closely related to that is the ability to maintain order—proper discipline in the classroom. A lack of discipline has destroyed many a good lesson plan.
All this is based on the premise that a teacher is born, not made. Certain God-given qualifications are necessary for one to be an effective teacher. This does not mean that an individual must be a polished teacher before he or she enters the education department of a college. Of course not. Training and experience will significantly improve the ability of an instructor to teach effectively. And, allowance must be made for differences of abilities from one teacher to the next. But effective educators have it in them—the ability to teach.
The second requirement of an excellent Protestant Reformed teacher is that he or she be Protestant Reformed. By this I do not mean merely that he is a member in good standing of a Protestant Reformed church. That is the formal requirement in all Protestant Reformed schools. But formal membership is scarcely the extent of this requirement. A teacher must have a thorough understanding of the truth that God has given the PRC. She must not only know the Reformed faith; she must also understand the doctrinal issues that God used to shape the PRC. This includes the issue of 1924—sovereign, particular grace, over against the error of common grace, and the right understanding of the preaching, over against the well-meant offer of the gospel. Above all, a teacher must grasp the doctrine of the covenant of grace—the unconditional covenant that God sovereignly establishes with His people elected in Christ, and maintained with believers and their seed in the line of continued generations. He must fully understand the place that children have in the covenant. All these doctrines are set forth in the “Declaration of Principles” adopted by the synod of the PRC in the early 1950s.
However, all that is simply knowledge. The teacher in a Protestant Reformed school must be committed to these truths with all her heart. It is expected that she loves this truth, that she continues to grow in her understanding of these truths in her reading and study.
Is not also that requirement obvious? A Protestant Reformed school is established by Protestant Reformed believers for the instruction of their children. They hire teachers who stand in their place. The teachers must be committed to the same doctrine as the parents if they are to stand in for them.
Here, too, however, certain clarifications must be made. There are people who jump to this requirement, and are willing to overlook the first one (ability to teach). That is to say, they insist that the teacher must be Protestant Reformed, and if he is teaching in harmony with the truth that God has given to the PRC, that is sufficient, regardless of whether or not the individual can teach effectively. That view of Protestant Reformed education is to be rejected—emphatically rejected. There may be times when a school board finds itself in a pinch, and has no choice but to hire one who is not as gifted a teacher as they would like. But it is not tolerable to relax the standards for instruction, and console oneself that at least it is Protestant Reformed.
In addition, some might question whether all PR teachers must understand Protestant Reformed doctrine. Is it truly necessary that a kindergarten teacher grasp these doctrines? Is it not enough that she be a good Christian, and teach her class good Christian truths and morals?
My answer is, no, that is not enough. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the fallacy of that view is by way of illustration. Many years ago, fresh out of college, I was hired to teach grades 6-8 and carry out the duties of an administrator in a relatively small, Protestant Reformed school. Early on in my time as administrator, a man and his wife met with me to investigate the possibility of sending their first child to the school. They were members of a Netherlands Reformed congregation and had no school of their own. Their concern was that their child would be taught doctrines different from what they were teaching their children. So, the rather pointed question was, “How much Protestant Reformed doctrine is taught in the school?” In my response, I affirmed that the school definitely taught from a Protestant Reformed perspective, and certainly the doctrines maintained in the PRC would be maintained in the school. But, I also expressed some reassurance that while there was a heavy doctrinal emphasis in the upper grades, that probably in the lower grades, their child would not encounter much of that.
My erroneous and uninformed understanding was soon to be corrected. One of the administrator’s duties is to visit the classrooms of the other teachers in order to help them improve in their teaching. In the providence of God, I was visiting the lower grades room (K-2) during Bible class, and the lesson was on Abraham. More specifically, it was on God establishing His covenant with Abraham. And there, before my very eyes and ears, the teacher was effectively teaching the Protestant Reformed doctrine of God’s covenant of grace at a level very appropriate for these five, six, and seven-year old students. And what, pray tell, would she have been teaching on that lesson if she had not possessed an excellent understanding of the truth of God’s covenant, and if she were not thoroughly committed to the truth as maintained in the PRC? A “generally Christian” view of the covenant (whatever that might be)? My experience taught me that teachers in a Protestant Reformed school at every level of instruction must be thoroughly Protestant Reformed.
What parents desire, then, are teachers who are Protestant Reformed to the core. These teachers, if raised in the PRC, showed diligence and genuine interest in catechism from their youth. As they grew older, they demonstrated an appreciation for the preaching, and, one would hope, an interest in reading Protestant Reformed literature. If they were not raised Protestant Reformed, they do not suddenly became qualified to teach by becoming a confessing member of a Protestant Reformed congregation. No absolute rules can be made here, because people join from different backgrounds. Some are thoroughly Reformed and fully committed to the truth of the PRC—with understanding— when they join. Others do not have a good grasp of the doctrines even after many years in the PRC.
Something similar to this happens in connection with the seminary fairly regularly. A young man comes to the PRC, is filled with enthusiasm for the truth, and soon wants to be a minister in the PRC. The advice from the seminary in almost all instances is that he sit in the pew for four or five years, become acquainted with the PRC doctrine and churches (and let the churches get to know him a bit), and then decide whether he is called to be a minister in the PRC. I strongly advise school boards to follow a similar tack.
That brings up a related matter. Not long ago a school board member of a Protestant Reformed school conveyed to me that when he was part of the committee that interviewed prospective teachers, he liked to ask them what they read. Specifically, he asked them whether they read the Standard Bearer, the Beacon Lights, and the RFPA books. The answers were disappointing, to say the least. Few read these publications with any consistency. What makes this worse is that college students are offered a subscription to the Standard Bearer, free for the asking. A teacher who wants to stand in the place of Protestant Reformed parents to teach their covenant children from the perspective of the parent, should be reading, and he should be reading Protestant Reformed literature.
The first two requirements for an excellent teacher in a Protestant Reformed school are, first, that the instructor be able to teach effectively, with all that this involves, and, second, that he is thoroughly and knowledgeably, Protestant Reformed. Other qualities are required, which will be explored, but these are foundational requirements.
Do you know any youth who demonstrate these two essential qualifications?
…to be continued.