Previous article in this series: January 1, 2017, p. 148.
Believing parents understand the weighty responsibility before God to train up their children in the fear of the Lord. When possible, Reformed parents band together to establish and maintain Christian schools to assist them in this high calling. The teachers are the heart of these Christian schools. This being the case, the importance of qualified—highly qualified—teachers cannot be overstated.
The past couple of editorials have focused on some of the essential qualifications for Protestant Reformed teachers—natural, spiritual, and theological qualifications. The theme has been that Protestant Reformed schools need excellent teachers.
In this connection, I have received some correspondence from Protestant Reformed teachers, and this is appreciated and helpful. One comment I share. The teacher wrote,
Having been a teacher yourself, you understand, I am confident, that no Protestant Reformed teacher will read your articles and conclude that he or she is counted among the “excellent” teachers. We all know our weaknesses, and our students and their parents know them even more. Yet teachers have a certain assurance that when we labor in love and out of a conviction of calling, that the Lord will establish the work of our hands. Any excellence is the Lord’s doing.
A hearty “Amen!” to that well-put reminder. At the same time, excellence is the teacher’s goal because the work is so important. As is true of parents, God equips teachers and uses their hard work, lifting them to a level of excellence that is often beyond themselves. Teachers, day in and day out, deal with the minds, emotions, bodies, and hearts of covenant children—God’s children. God uses these dedicated teachers to help mold these young hearts and minds with the goal of perfecting these young saints—bringing them to spiritual maturity, to the goal that God has in mind for each individual believer. The teacher seeks to furnish each child unto all good works, that is, a life of serving God (II Tim. 3:17). Teachers are preparing future fathers and future mothers in Israel, future confessing members, officebearers, and, more teachers. And ultimately, they are preparing these young believers for their place in heaven. What a thrill to be so used by God!
Believing parents, desiring to equip their children for service to God, want to develop as many of their children’s gifts as possible. Accordingly, they demand of the school a broad education—not only mathematics, but music. Not merely reading, but literature. Not only psychology, but physical education. Each child must be equipped to serve God with his heart, mind, soul, and strength (bodily strength). Christian school teachers have the calling to give an education that is broad in scope.
In pursuit of a solid and broad education, teachers impart knowledge and teach skills. Yet we all recognize that the same teaching activity is performed in the public school as well as in the private academy. In the Christian school, however, the teachers not only give facts and information; they also interpret and evaluate the material from a biblical perspective. They answer such questions as: Why is this (information or skill) valuable for the child to be able to serve God? Why is this important for the church of Christ? How does it impact (in history or today) the world of men? How does it fit into God’s counsel, and into the work of the kingdom? And what does it reveal about God Himself?
At the center of the Christian school teacher’s instruction is, and must be, Christ. For Christ is the Word, the one who reveals God in all His glory and majesty (John 1:17, 18). For this reason, God made Christ to be the center of His plan, and Christ has the preeminence in all things (Col. 1:18). Christ is also the powerful, creating Word of God—indeed, all things were created not only by Him but for Him (Col. 1:16). In addition, Christ powerfully preserves the creation (Heb. 1:3) and sovereignly directs all of history (Rev. 6). If the covenant children, then, will be reared in the fear of the Lord and for His service, all the instruction in the Christian school must in some way be leading them to know God in Christ—as their creator, preserver, savior, and Lord.
Christ-centered instruction will be (it is my conviction) Protestant Reformed instruction. But the Protestant Reformed teacher, day after day, lesson after lesson, wants to give instruction that is distinctively and unambiguously Protestant Reformed. He seeks to impress on his students the Reformed “world and life view” that is in harmony with the theology and practice of the Protestant Reformed Churches. He is shaping how the child views himself, how he views the world around him, and what is his relation to Jehovah God. This Reformed world and life view will equip the covenant youth for a lifetime of service to Christ.
It should be obvious, then, that a Christian school is more than an institution of learning plus the Bible. A Christian school is more than an academy plus Psalm singing, chapels, Scripture reading, and prayer. Rather, a Christian school gives instruction that is consistently permeated with Scripture. The instruction breathes Christ crucified, exalted, and ruling from God’s right hand.
When you consider this, is it becoming clear that the young men and women who aspire to be teachers in a Protestant Reformed school need training to accomplish this monumental task? Do understand clearly, that question is not intended to highlight teacher deficiencies. Not at all! The purpose is rather to draw attention to the fact that their calling is so high that it demands special training. Everyone recognizes that any job requires some training. Even after a college graduate has been trained in a particular field, for example, accounting, computer programing, or business administration, the company that hires him will usually give some training of its own. “This is how you learned it in college. This is how we do it here in this company.”
Allow me to give another example about the importance of special training. A father who knows that his daughter needs heart surgery looks for a man with the necessary qualifications. The beginning qualifications may include that the future surgeon is highly intelligent, enjoyed biology and physiology in college, and has good, steady hands. But no one in his right mind would allow a man to operate on his daughter just because the man was very intelligent, good at science, and had steady hands. Nor would this father be satisfied to find a graduate of a medical school as a general practitioner. Rather, he must know whether this man is trained to perform this surgery on his daughter.
So with a teacher. Yes, she must be a Christian who possesses a goodly amount of intelligence, loves covenant children, and has the ability to maintain order in the classroom and convey information effectively. But before the believing father submits his son or daughter to the instruction of this teacher, that father wants to know—is she trained to give Christ-centered instruction and a Protestant Reformed world and life view?
And my answer is: The graduates of Grand Valley State University, Calvin, Hope, Dordt, and Trinity (and other universities and colleges) are not. I speak from my experience as a teacher. I was not competently trained to teach in a Protestant Reformed school, and my discussions with teachers indicate that others had the same experience. We taught, and struggled along to give Christ-centered, Reformed instruction. But whatever ability we had to do so came from the upbringing of godly parents and years of instruction in Protestant Reformed schools. Those two influences are not insignificant, to be sure. But we needed more. Too often we had to be satisfied simply to get through the material. One may legitimately differentiate between colleges—public universities vs. Christian colleges, and we may hope that the Christian colleges will focus on teaching in a Christian school, whereas the public institutions do not. But it should be apparent that none of these colleges will give the specialized training needed for teaching in a Protestant Reformed school.
I point out that my personal experience is limited to only four years of teaching in a Protestant Reformed school. One would hope that there was development in those four years, and I know that teachers who work at this do develop significantly in their ability to have Scripture permeate their instruction. It is a pity that teachers work forty or more years in Protestant Reformed schools, developing in these abilities, and when they retire, their knowledge and experience retire with them. It should be further developed and passed on to college students—equipping them for excellent teaching.
We need to be more specific in facing the question, “Why do aspiring teachers need training beyond what they are receiving at public or private colleges?” For clarity’s sake, it will help to state the negative, that is, what is not the goal. Further training is not needed in order to make prospective teachers Protestant Reformed. That is assumed; that is an essential requirement. The training may well sharpen their understanding of the Reformed faith, but it will not make the individual Protestant Reformed. Secondly, the training is not to enable them to teach, though it should sharpen their skills. Third, the training will not give them the requisite love for children, though it should set forth why they must love these children. Fourth, this training is not needed to equip them for classroom discipline, though it should demonstrate that discipline is biblical.
Again, why more training for those who have already received training from a college or university? Consider this. There ought to be a concern generally that college students pick up unbiblical ideas which influence them, without their even being conscious of the influence or the principles behind it. For starters, education majors are usually taught a wrong view of the child. Without going into detail, there is the view of the unbelieving psychologist, the view of common grace, and the Reformed view. In addition, education majors are taught certain methods of discipline and instruction—methods guided by unbelieving psychology and worldly pedagogy. Further training can focus on these and other erroneous ideas and correct them.
But let us be more practical, and more positive, for I have hopes that further training will discuss or enable the Protestant Reformed teacher to face such questions as these: l How will “spelling” be taught in a Christian school that will be different from the way it is taught in a public school?
This and so much more can be explored in instruction given by experienced Protestant Reformed teachers to those who desire to teach in Protestant Reformed schools. Such instruction would be invaluable, and in my judgment, exciting. It would give confidence to beginning teachers. It would equip them for Protestant Reformed teaching in Protestant Reformed schools. And, therefore, it would be an inestimable blessing to the schools, and to the covenant youth.
So, how do we begin? More, next time.