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A Heart to Teach – Hoping to Avoid Mutiny (6)

We’re going to be taking a slight detour from discussing qualifications of good teachers and the reasonings behind our current teacher shortage to talk, in a short series of posts, about something relevant for both prospective teachers and established teachers alike: classroom management. This time of the year can be particularly challenging for teachers as both they and their students become battle-weary and work-worn within the dreary dregs of Winter. The sun rarely shines and the workload piles up. Then the warm days show up – a couple days at least – and the madness of March sets in. Teachers find their patience and calm often frayed to nubs, easily agitated unless they actively fight the urge to be short and irritable. Small problems that have been simmering within the class atmosphere seem to be exacerbated and manifest themselves as the extremes in student attitude and teacher reactitude – yes, I made that word up – are pressed to their limits. Teachers can feel like a bone to be chewed when the gales of student discontent come slashin’. A mutinous spirit has entered the class and, if not carefully stymied, can grow and mutate into a festering sore.

A properly managed classroom does not mean that this spirit of unrest can’t happen. We live in a sinful world, teaching sinful students as sinful teachers. Yet, a proper, Christian view of your students and your role as their teacher can plug a lot of holes in a “sinking” ship. A healthy, Christ-centered approach to classroom management strengthens the unity of the classroom and defuses a mutinous attitude or, even better, helps to prevent it from growing in the first place. So, teachers, avoid mutiny by boarding the HMS Bounty.

Wait…what?

Teachers, you need to get onboard. Establishing a Christ-centered classroom requires that you consider your treatment of the following four principles: Hope, Match, Serve, and Bounty. Avoid mutiny by hoping, matching, serving, and trusting in God’s bounty.

First, let’s look at hope. How is this to play a central part in the direction of your classroom? It is crucial that we have the hope of God when it comes to our students. We can be discouraged at times with the actions of our students. We can be discouraged with our own actions and reactions. It can be easy to get downhearted, anxious, and even despairing over the day-to-day interactions between students as well as our own engagements with them. We might say something – or not say something – and regret it. We may get discouraged when students sin against each other or struggle with the afflictions of the flesh and the effects of their own sinful natures. This is where the hope of God comes into play. The hope of God casts aside despair and refocuses us on the One who really matters and on whose strength we ought to lean on and encourage our students to lean on. Psalm 43 expresses the Psalmist’s same struggle with these discouragements. Psalter 120 paints this Psalm beautifully:

Judge me, God of my salvation,
Plead my cause, for Thee I trust;
Hear my earnest supplication,
Save me from my foes unjust.

CHORUS:

O my soul, why art thou grieving?
What disquiets and dismays?
Hope in God; His help receiving,
I shall yet my Saviour praise.

On Thy strength alone relying,
Why am I cast off by Thee,
In my helpless sorrow sighing,
While the foe oppresses me?

Light and truth, my way attending,
Send thou forth to be my guide,
Till Thy holy mount ascending,
I within Thy house abide.

At Thy sacred altar bending,
God, my God, my boundless joy,
Harp and voice, in worship blending,
For Thy praise will I employ.

It bears special notice how often prayer is referenced. We receive the hope of God through the power of prayer and God speaking with us: “At Thy sacred altar bending, God, my God, my boundless joy, harp and voice in worship blending, for thy praise will I employ.” We worship Him and praise Him by bowing before Him. It is through this prayer and worship that we are given His hope and, in turn, His help is received. It is when we shed off our own conceited notion of self-ability and admit our own inability (which happens more and more as the Holy Spirit cleanses our hearts and sanctifies us to live like unto Jesus Christ) that the reassurance of the power of Christ’s shed blood more-and-more washes over us, calming the squalls of disquiet and dismay so that, instead of feeling cast-off from God, our sighs of helpless sorrow are flung away. We have CHRIST pleading our cause! What greater balm for discouragement is there than that?!

When we hope in God, our discouragement in our own failures is put in perspective. God’s mercies are new and boundless to us every morning. Never will we “scrape the bottom” of His goodness. When we know that truth, our discouragement is transformed into encouragement for we confess that we “can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth” us (Philippians 4:13). Paul, in the context of this passage, is speaking to the wide range of different situations in which God has placed him and the variety of different emotions he’s faced: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (vs 12). The life of the teacher can feel like this sometimes. There can be highs and lows. Sometimes, as a teacher, you experience the greatest “highs” of the mountaintops: witnessing students as they serve Jesus in their walk, model their life after Jesus Christ, apply the things they’ve learned in their classes to their Christian worldview, and take up their place within the the Church of Christ. However, you also will experience the lows: the realities of our own sinfulness, the consequences of sinful walks and actions, the corrupting influence of the world upon families and friendships, and Satan’s own direct assaults upon the youth. These can be disheartening. Sometimes it can feel like the negative, difficult situations are hitting harder and more frequently than the good moments, the scales are out-of-balance, like you’ve been placed in a heavyweight-boxing match and you’re horribly undersized and underprepared. That’s where we take our hope in God…for ourselves (He’s our strength), but also, and this is crucially important, for our students.

Having this mindset of having the hope of God for our students is critical, and it plays a role in how we navigate the management of our classrooms. When we see students sinning, or they sin directly to us, or they are burdened down with the effects of their own sinful behaviors, these can be troubling and can, without the proper Christ-centered perspective, lead to an improper perspective of the students and our own reaction to them and their time in our classrooms. We, as teachers, have been given the joy of teaching and instructing God’s youth. They are God’s youth. We place our trust and our hope in that truth. When they act out in sin, we should be wise to remember to direct them to God. Don’t focus the attention on what they did to you as a teacher primarily but redirect their attention to God. When they are struggling with their own sinful behaviors, orient them to face the rugged cross of Jesus. Equip them with the Word given by God for them. When counseling, leading, and comforting, don’t just bring your own words. These can only go so far as they proceed from earthen vessels. Bring God’s comfort and hope alongside your students when they’re struggling so that they too have a proper and right perspective.

We have a surety in God’s promises that we can rely on, a confidence that we bear in the classroom when we view the young people sitting before us in the light of Christ. They are Christ’s lambs. Each one, like ourselves, is under-construction by the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides us through a life of continued sanctification, and He will not fail to bring about His desired purpose: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Our confident work, therefore, is performed out of love. It begins with Christ’s love for His sheep. We love Him because He has first loved us. Our love for each other proceeds out of this love for Christ: “We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (I John 4:19-21). When we remember this, our view of others, our students included, changes. We harbor a confident hope in God’s promise for them as His children, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).

And this hope is a joyful thing. We can take joy in the hope of salvation: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). This hope is a lively hope. It inspires a certain agency to our hope so that our hope is not a dead hope. Christ is ARISEN! Our hope, therefore, is sure and very much alive. When we have this hope and joy in our students, even when they sin against us and our tempers flare or our selfish desire is to take offense for our own self’s sake, we remember to whom we belong and to whom they belong. This doesn’t give excuse for their actions by any means. If anything, it adds more imperative that the wrongdoing be addressed and not turned a blind-eye to. Yet not for the sake of our own honor but for their own well-being and, more importantly, to guide them to an awareness of their own hope of salvation and to draw them to the foot of the cross.

When we have this attitude towards our students, God blesses us with strength. A healthy, Christ-empowered strength. This type of strength is fed on by students as they watch and observe the walk of a teacher whose walk is in line with God’s Word. Psalm 42, which was referenced earlier, speaks about being disquieted and the exhaustion that accompanies it. The Psalmist draws the picture of a deer panting for water, near-death from thirst and near-mad in its search for “water brooks”. That “water brook” is Jesus Christ, the living water. When His people drink of Him and hope/wait on Him, He “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

So, take that hope of God into your classroom. Hope in God for your students. Trust in His promises for them. Joy in the Lord and take courage. Equipped with hope, enter your classroom with a new strength, that of Jesus’ work not of your own. Be on your knees before His throne, constant in prayer, and, through His peace may you be given joy. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).

Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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A Heart to Teach – Pulled (5)

Dipping the sleek paddle edge into the water, I glide the kayak smoothly through the calm waters of the lake. The early morning mist rises from the water in a blanket, covering the surface in a cloud-like embrace. On the nearby shore, fowl warble morning-greetings and welcome the day before casting aloft, circling above me then disappearing into the glorious early morning gloom. The light from the oncoming sun tinges the horizon, witness and ambassador for the oncoming day. As I round a bend in the shoreline, I come upon my destination. Here the lake drains away into the head of a river, beginning with a short waterfall. The water plunges over the edge of the drop before gaining momentum and coursing down the newfound river. What was once a still lake now has taken direction, pulling my kayak gently but noticeably forward towards the falls. The closer I become, the harder the pull becomes. I begin back-paddling in order to keep in place to watch the beautiful waterfall. After a few more moments, I dig my paddle in harder, attempting to break free from the pull that is drawing me towards the falls so I can head back the way I have come. Surprisingly, the kayak struggles to change direction and I need to fight to propel the kayak away from the edge and out from the constant pull.

In some ways, this analogy fits what a teacher feels. They experience an inexorable pull towards teaching. That was my experience. Even after I had dropped out of education, the Lord kept reminding me in little ways and sometimes big ways that He wanted me to be a teacher. He pulled me to it. I remember that, even in high school, there was an inclination to teach. This “inclination” or “pull” is sometimes referred to as the “call to teach”. That language opens the well-worn debate about whether teaching is a calling or an occupation. Some of that depends on the perspective of the teacher. There is, however, an element of being pulled into education that, frankly, can’t be denied. It would be hard to say, though, that those pulled to teaching endure the same level of  a “call” that those called into the ministry feel. That type of a “call” is different in its scope and magnitude. Being a minister of the Word is more than an occupation, it is a life calling, a whole-encompassing life-calling. It should be a consuming calling. That isn’t the same for a teacher. Someone who is “called” into the profession of education need not fully-devote his entire life to it like a minister must give himself to his congregation. In that regard, teaching is an occupation. It is a job, similar to other jobs in that it has its own place within the life of the teacher (albeit a very important place). This place is to be balanced with the other responsibilities that the teacher has to family and personal life outside of teaching. A minister is on-call 24/7. If a call comes from a member of the church or an elder about a pressing matter, that minister will drop all, no matter the time of day (or night) to shepherd the flock. A teacher, on the flip-side, may check his/her email in the evenings, but is, for the most part, not obligated to deal with any of those emails or issues until the next day at school unless he/she chooses to.

It also could be rightly argued that it is healthy for a teacher to maintain a certain awareness of the “job” aspect of teaching so that it doesn’t fully consume him. It can be surprisingly easy to pour everything into teaching, heart and soul, to the full extent that other areas of his life can suffer (mental health, family life, personal relationships with others, spiritual-walk and devotional life, etc.) There is a proper balance to be established that remembers that teaching is an occupation. Yet, logically, if it is so easy and tempting for a teacher to over-extend himself and get consumed by the work as he devotes himself to it, that must say something about those who are teachers. They are pulled towards it. They have a passion for it that makes it easy to want to keep doing more. That is a good thing. A teacher who views teaching simply as a job, an occupation, but not as something more, loses a sense of the purpose and love for teaching at the same time. To that point, teaching is a calling. Those with a heart to teach actively feel God pulling them into education and, once become a teacher, continue to experience being pulled to love the work, love the job. It takes a special heart to feel this pull. Being there to serve and work for the betterment of the students can be humbling, frustrating, and exhausting (and that all in one day), but, as much or more so, it can be inspiring and rewarding to see God’s covenant youth learning about Him, applying what they’re learning to their understanding of Him, so that they mature and grow into their places within Christ’s Church.

The Bible also makes mention of teachers specifically and the beautiful calling that they have to teach. When speaking about the Body of Christ in Romans 12, we read:

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. (vs. 4-8)

And so it is that God recognizes for our benefit that He specifically equips certain people with a heart designed and crafted by Him to teach. That’s their purpose within His Body, and He pulls all those that He has molded this way towards that. Everyone’s place in the Body is specific to the gifts given them. Those with the heart to teach have been given certain gifts in certain areas (more on these in future blog posts). These gifts work to incline or pull that individual towards education within His divine plan and in His time.

Again, in Ephesians 4, Paul makes special reference to the occupation of teacher and the role/significance it possesses within the Body of Christ:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (vs. 11-16).

Here Paul makes a point to address the role of the Body to edify one another in love so that we aren’t ignorant and are “no more children tossed to and fro” but are educated and wise. This includes the work of the pastors primarily in regards to doctrine, but also, an element is given to teachers as well, to those who hold this level of influence in shaping the minds and thinking of the future generations. We see this in the way our homes operate and the education that happens there as the parents instruct their children in the Lord, and we see that same education continued in the schools where the teachers take on that role of educating the youth in not only the content-areas that apply to their living and understanding the physical world they live in but also in their understanding and application of those principles in the light of the Word as a “most elegant book” (Belgic Confession Article 2). The centrality of the Word, Jesus Christ, in all of this ought not be overlooked. That is the real work of the teacher, to point students to Christ so that they may worship Him and see how He is at the heart of everything. It is likewise significant that both these references to teachers (Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) do so in the context of the Body of Christ. The calling of the teacher is to instruct, in the Spirit of Christ’s love, those of the Body of Christ, to enable them in the gifts they’ve been given, and to teach of and unto the “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” in order that, through that power of Christ, they “may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4: 13,15).

So, what does this mean to the individual who is thinking about teaching? If God has desired and planned for you to teach, He will equip you with the heart to do just that. He will give and develop in you the gifts suitable for that occupation. He will also be faithful in pulling you into that calling … just be mindful that this is all on His time-schedule not yours. Be patient. If you are feeling underequipped, too young, or simply inexperienced and unsure, wait and listen. He will make His way clear. If you feel like you’ve “missed-the-boat” and that ship has sailed but you still feel the pull, give some thought and lots of prayer to it. Talk to others about it too, those that you trust to give you honest and loving advice. The Lord might’ve purposed to give you extra time outside education so that you could more perfectly fit and be the teacher He wants you to be. In either case and in all things, we are reminded by the prophet Isaiah that, “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (14:24) and “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (46:9-10).

Let us not forget and so take comfort. He is God. He has worked mightily in the earth and pulled mightily upon our hearts. He has brought us, dead sinners, out of darkness and into His light. He has decreed goodness to us and has promised to lead us gently in the paths of His tender-kindness. Who are we to doubt His plan? Who are we to question His timing or His designs for our lives for “the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:3-5).

Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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A Heart to Teach – Then I Won’t Want to Teach (4)

It was 2013. I was no longer in education. I’d officially notified the College of Education at Grand Valley State University that I wouldn’t be continuing in the Fall. Now what? I’d be continuing my education to finish with a 4-year English degree, although the jobs I could get with that degree didn’t particularly draw my interest. I didn’t want to entirely waste the 3 years I’d invested up to that point so it seemed only logical to finish a degree, even if I wouldn’t be using it. The previous year, I had begun a small side-business buying-and-selling online. It seemed to be profitable, perhaps I could grow it? My dad was self-employed as was his father. Both my uncles on that side of the family were also self-employed businessmen. Sales had been a part of my life from the beginning. I could follow in that same vein.

And so began my business: JAE Sales, the name resurrected from a previous venture that I had started with my two brothers, the JAE being a combination of the first initials of our names. Soon, I had a regular circuit of Goodwills I would visit and buy from, expanding out from just their stores to also their online store. I would resell my purchases on eBay and Repocast.com. By 2014, this route hadn’t produced enough profit and couldn’t generate enough items to make for a sustainable business. That’s when someone keyed me into storage locker auctions. The early months of 2014 saw me dive into buying storage lockers that had been repossessed. The auctions were exhilarating, some of the finds intriguing. However, the long-and-short, it was dirty and exhausting work, especially when working by myself. So, while I’ve got some really cool stories of some of my storage-locker-buying exploits (from military purple hearts to a storage locker with a marijuana-growing hydroponics system hidden in the back to authentic WWII memorabilia to the craziness of buying 14 storage lockers in one day), that wasn’t the normal. Most lockers were filled with assortments of daily household items, trash, clothes, a dirty mattress or two (usually a king-size just to make life interesting) and, of course, a huge behemoth of a TV from an age when “flat-screen” had nothing to do with the depth and weight of the TV and everything to do with the curvature of the screen itself. If these were worth their weight in pennies, I would’ve been a millionaire. By the end of that summer, the business was doing better, but it was still, for the most part, scraping by. I had graduated in April of that year so I was now full-time self-employed. If I was to make this my full-time occupation my business plan needed to change. There simply wasn’t enough profit to be had in storage lockers to make it a feasible, self-sustaining business. Something still didn’t feel quite right. Nothing had felt quite right since dropping out of education the previous year, although I wouldn’t have readily admitted that at the time. I was sure that the Lord had closed that door and didn’t intend for me to be a teacher.

So, late August 2014, I sold my box-truck, bought out the lease on my warehouse, and made a giant leap. Deciding that teaching wasn’t God’s will for me, I thought that perhaps that was the Lord’s way to tell me to enter the ministry. So, I began learning Greek at the seminary, taking some philosophy classes at Grand Valley State University, and brushing up on some Latin that I had taken in high-school. This foray was brief (approximately 2-3 months in length). Probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell friends and family I was leaving pre-seminary. My reasons for leaving pre-seminary were varied, but could be summarized with one question that was me by one of the professors: can you do anything except this (being a minister)? My answer was that I could see myself doing other things: the thought of teaching still crossed my mind as well as I could still see myself working in sales. I never had the burning call of the ministry.

Adrift again. Several close family and friends suggested and encouraged I rethink about education, but I insisted that I didn’t want to be a teacher. That wasn’t God’s calling for me. That door had been closed. It would involve returning to school again, and all the same problems from before would still be there. It simply wasn’t possible. So, I reopened my business, restructured my business plan, and began buying-and-selling store-liquidated products. Throughout the following year, JAE Sales grew. Winter of 2015, I hired my youngest brother to work part-time while in high-school. Profits were up. Business was good. Yet, the thought of teaching still kept creeping in at the back of my mind. I would shove it to the side and insist that “when I’m a successful businessman, I won’t want to teach.” And with that reasoning, I successfully squashed the pull I felt towards teaching once again.

In the Spring of 2016, I hired my other brother. Throughout that summer, JAE Sales enjoyed its most profitable months ever. Towards the end of summer, I added another employee, my brother-in-law, as well as purchased a “successful businessman” status-symbol – a really nice Chevrolet Silverado (pearl white, leather seats, LTZ trim-package, the works). JAE Sales was turning out to be successful.  And yet…something still wasn’t right. I’d told myself that when I was “successful” in business that I would no longer have any desire to teach. Surely, that would cement-seal teaching out of my life. I wouldn’t feel inextricably drawn back towards it. The only problem…I still wanted to teach. Even worse – I felt the pull to teach even stronger than I had ever felt it before.

And that brings our tale to November of 2016. I sat next to my wife on the couch. Our nearly 3-year old son was in bed. Our second-child was due in 3 months. We talked, and we prayed. The decision was made. I was to return to school that January. Three semesters. A year-and-a-half. We had absolutely no idea how it would work, but we trusted that the Lord would provide…and He did. After a delay of 3.5 years, God reopened the door of education. Throughout those 3.5 years, He had shaped and molded me into the person He wanted me to be so that I could be the teacher He wanted me to be. The realization struck us that this was clearly God’s timing, not ours as Acts 1:7 says, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”

So, what does this say to those who are thinking about education. Mine is just one story. However, there is something to be said for the “pull” that continued to arise and draw me back towards education. That wasn’t “by chance”. God pulled me back to education for He knew He had given a heart ready to teach. This, in one shape-or-form, is similar for all teachers and would-be teachers. They share a heart to teach that God uses to pull them to that calling. Now, unfortunately, this post needs to draw to a close. This topic of the “pull” needs further exploration to be done justice. For this week, though, we take comfort that God has a perfect plan for each one of us, no matter the twists and turns along the way: “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee” (Ps. 139: 17-18). So we give thanks for His will is so much greater than ours could ever be, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (II Thessalonians 5:18).

Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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A Heart to Teach – Those Who Can…Teach (3)

“You’ve all probably heard,” my professor began, “the phrase ‘those who can’t..teach’. It’s our job to debunk that myth because it’s not true.” Huh? I’d never heard that phrase before. The professor continued, “Many in our society don’t appreciate the work and talent that goes into teaching.” Fervent nods from my classmates. “Those who can’t…teach. Society depicts teachers as idiots who are inept at everything from social skills to practical life skills,” the professor’s voice escalated to a crescendo as he came to the crux of his argument. “They say that those who can’t, as in, like, can’t do anything, they teach, and subsequently, since they can’t do anything, they also can’t teach. Those that can’t teach.” Disgust washed over his austere face, “What a load of bologna. We are teachers and we can. We can teach.” Stump-speech finished, he paused and took a breath before launching into his plan for the day.

My brain, however, lingered on that phrase “Those who can’t…teach.” Something about that phrase deeply disturbed me. My impression of teachers had, as a whole, been one of aptitude to teach rather than ineptitude. In fact, in my experience, I had met and learned under many teachers who weren’t only good at teaching but possessed a wide and diverse set of abilities. Quite a few of them, I’m sure, could easily have done other occupations and been quite successful at them, and that brings me to the main point of this post. One of the reasons there is a shortage of teachers is that those who would make good teachers would also make really good scientists, builders, accountants, nurses, salesmen, painters, computer programmers, and the list could go on and on.

Every year, I make a concerted effort to think about which of my students would be good teachers. Once identified, I work to find the right time to mention it to those students, although, to be fair, I’m not always the best at the ‘right time’ part of it. One time, I pulled a student to the side after school, had a sincere conversation with this student, before letting him return to his after-school mission…tracking down the teacher that would be serving his eighth-hour detention for too many tardies – the irony. After chuckling with the student the next day on the timing of it, I told him he’d still make a good teacher. Regardless, one thing always strikes me about these students: they would be good at a lot of things. They’re often gifted in many areas, whether that be academic gifts or physical gifts or personality gifts or a mixture of all three. They are able to do a lot of things.

These students also often have the hardest time knowing and deciding what to do. For some of them it’s crystal clear, but for many their wide range of interests and abilities opens many doors and career options. If you’re reading this and you’re one of these individuals, the very best thing you can do to clear your head is to talk about it. Talk about it with friends and family; talk it over with your minister. If you have a good relationship with your teachers (which, for the most part, those who would make good teachers do), pick their brains. Never feel embarrassed to ask a teacher you trust whether or not they think you would make a good teacher. There is, however, one more key ear you need to share your thoughts with: your God’s ear. His ear is always open and ready to listen, and He knows what is best for you. Talk it over with Him as He knows the inner workings of your heart and He knows how to lead and direct you in the path that is best for you. If you come to Him searching for answers, He will provide them:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:7-11)

Now we know that it is all in His timing, but we also take comfort in the assurance that He is our heavenly Father. He loves and cares for each of us. When you bow to Him, it is amazing how He will make His way clear. What does this (the confidence in God’s will for you) feel like? That’s a complex question, and I’m sure it’s somewhat different for everyone. I’ve only felt what it’s like for me. However, there are certain things in common that individuals drawn into education share. The next post in this series, Lord willing, will address this topic more in-depth. For the sake of this post, simply remember that you are not alone. There is nothing shameful or wrong or embarrassing about asking those in your life about your own gifts and talents and what they think you’d be good at. When writing, especially something extremely important, we seek outside perspective by having others read our writing. As the author, our perspective can get warped and disjointed so that it is hard to gain a clear understanding of what worked well and what needed improvement. So too, when we are thinking and dwelling on very important developments in our life, we need not do it alone. Talk to your friends. Talk to your parents. Talk to your teachers. And never forget, talk it over with your Father in heaven for He knows and He cares.

Parents, family, friends, teachers – you also play an instrumental role. Be “all-ears”. Often you can be most-influential by listening and providing truthful answers. Also, be on the lookout. If you see someone that has the makings of a teacher, mention it to them. It doesn’t have to be anything major – a short, kind comment can do amazing things. I remember influential people in my life who encouraged me to be a teacher. Some of these same individuals helped in guiding me back towards education later in life after I had dropped out. This included family but also included several teachers who steered me towards education. I was given the opportunity to work as a teacher’s assistant in high school and that really prompted me to more seriously consider teaching as a career. Remember, many who would make good teachers are also good at many things. It can be a real confidence-boost and encouragement for these students to know that someone else sees in them the ability to teach. Don’t underestimate the power of words. God has given an uplifting power to positive words of encouragement. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Heaviness [anxiety, uncertainty, etc.]  in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” You never know exactly how God will use your words. If the opportunity to encourage someone with the heart to teach arises, don’t miss it, seize it, and then trust that the Lord will use that word for whatever His intended end.

And in doing so, God molds and shapes each one of us into the part of the Body of Christ that He has ordained. We all have different skills and gifts, and God has granted them to us for a reason that we might fit perfectly into the niche He has carved for us:

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. (I Corinthians 12: 4-12).

And that really is the heart of it. While our focus is so often on each of our own personal pursuits, abilities, and callings, it is important to remember the big picture. God has given us our gifts as part of His organic Church. It is a body. We each have a role in that body, designated by God. So, those that God has given the ability and heart to teach have been given those abilities by God their Maker so that they may best serve Him in His kingdom and within His body. May we build each other up and encourage each other to use the gifts we’ve been given within that body: “Comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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A Heart to Teach – Supply-and-Demand (2)

January, 2012. A few years into college and a few years to go. Each week I would look in the church bulletin, read it over. One thing that would draw my particular interest during those first few months of the year would be “teacher-needed” notices. The problem…there simply weren’t many. Anxiously, I would close the bulletin, tuck it into my pants’ pocket, sit back, and try not to think about what my future in education would hold. Would there be a job for me when I graduated? Would it be a high-school job? What about in areas of my interest? Would I need to move out of state? There was still time. Those jobs didn’t even apply to me because I wouldn’t be applying or interviewing for another two years or so. There would be more jobs then. I would analyze which teachers would be thinking about retiring. Would that line up with me graduating? And what about all the others going into teaching? And those experienced teachers who might be interested in those jobs, would I be competing with them? Any local jobs surely wouldn’t be available for me as they would be gobbled up by experienced teachers. Could I move away? I most surely would have to. Would I be ready when the time came to leave everything I knew and those I loved to take a job far away from home? How many choices would I have? One? Maybe two? Zero? Oh wait – I was trying not to think about the problem. Yet, there was no way to avoid it. Teaching jobs weren’t going to materialize out of thin air. I would need to trust. I would need to pray. I would need to be sure that God was calling me to teach. I would need to not worry…

June, 2013. One-and-a-half years later. I was out of education. Many changes had happened in my life. My wife and I had celebrated our first wedding anniversary in May. July would see us moving out of our one-bedroom apartment and into our first house, making mortgage payments and having house-expenses for the first time. Our first child was due in six months. This created an understandable sense of excitement but also a level of apprehension (at least on my part) as I looked ahead and worried. How would we pay for all the extra expenses: house, child, school, food, church budget, medical expenses? We were making ends meet but not with much excess. I had recently received a letter of acceptance into the College of Education at Grand Valley State University, but I had a dampened excitement. In August, I would be starting my teacher assisting. Then the semester after that: student teaching. None of it paid the bills. Nine months of working in schools during the day, taking classes in the afternoon and evenings. When would I work? December would see, Lord willing, the birth of our first child. Dual income would soon be coming to an end as well. What would we do? And then…the anxiety of the past few years would creep up again. Would there be a job available when I graduated? And so the cycle of worry rewound itself and replayed on a free-running loop in my brain. Would there be a job? How will we make it? How? What? Where? Would there? Should we? What if?

And so, shortly after receiving my acceptance letter into the College of Education, I abandoned my Education Major and my Teaching History Minor and charted a course to finish my degree with a simple English Major and an added Applied Linguistics Minor. I would still graduate in four years, but I could take primarily night classes and work during the day. My family would be provided for and my college education wouldn’t be entirely wasted. Maybe I would even continue night classes and pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree. This, I decided, must have been God’s way of steering me away from teaching. Surely, the shortage of readily-available teaching jobs and my need to provide for my family was sign enough. I would put that career-option behind me as God apparently was closing that door. At least that was how I rationalized it. Suffice-it-to-say, though, God hadn’t closed that door. He only delayed it. My conclusions weren’t correct, and my anxieties weren’t correctly founded and that was a lesson the Lord needed me to learn. Look back at those questions: how would we pay for everything? Would there be a job for me? What would we do? My worries were horizontal in thinking, not vertical. I wasn’t looking up and trusting. I sought to solve the problem and find a way to conquer it in my own strength instead of leaning and casting my burdens on the strength of Jesus Christ.

That, however, isn’t the focus of this blog post and, after all that set-up, we need to bring this post back to its intended direction. We’ll return to some of the other ideas in future posts. This post is about supply-and-demand. It’s one of the most basic economic principles. Now, to be clear, supply-and-demand principles aren’t designed to add insight into employment. It’s designed to gain insight into the pricing for market goods. However, there are connections we can draw to our own teacher-shortage crisis and how we got here. If demand equals the number of teacher jobs available and supply equals the number of teachers looking for a job, then market equilibrium (the desired state) would be when there are as many teaching jobs available as there are teachers looking for jobs. This is ideal. Disequilibrium occurs when there is an excess or shortage of either the supply or the demand. This is where we are right now. We are in a state of dramatic disequilibrium. The demand is far greater than the supply.

Yet, this didn’t come out of nowhere. Often, when a market is in equilibrium, only minor tweaks and adjustments are necessary to keep it at equilibrium. However, once a market begins to slide into disequilibrium, dramatic reactions and counter-reactions begin to occur within the market. That’s where we are now. The market that is Protestant Reformed Education has been in disequilibrium for some time now. What we are now currently facing, a shortage in supply, is actually the result of a counter-reaction within the market. Prior to having a shortage in supply, we faced a shortage in demand. There simply weren’t enough jobs for those interested in teaching. This resulted in a weakening of the supply as those interested got diverted elsewhere or didn’t enter the supply at all as they evaluated the job-potential in that field. This happened. It didn’t get the headlines that our current state of disequilibrium is getting, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Our current problem is more noticeable because a larger, bigger body is hurting: the schools and then, in turn, the students, families, supporters, etc. that face the possibility of not having enough teachers in their school. However, the state of disequilibrium prior to this, while not as public, was also a very difficult time for those it affected. It just wasn’t as noticeable. Those who normally would think about teaching found themselves thinking of alternatives because of the very real lack of demand. There were those who put years of work and effort into college preparation only to find, upon graduation, that there was no place for them. That hurt for those people. It was a struggle for myself. I can witness to the stress and worry it placed on myself and my family. Don’t be deceived. Our current shortage has roots. It has been building for years. My graduating class from Covenant (2010) originally had roughly eight students, give-or-take, bound for education. By my count, three are currently teachers. That includes myself, who left then rejoined, and one who wasn’t in the original group but changed his major in college. That says something. While the factors are complex, and we’ll get into some of the other factors and ways to combat those another time, I wouldn’t doubt the shortage of demand played into it. And so, less teachers graduated and less candidates entered education. The supply went down to match the demand. Equilibrium was briefly re-established but over-swung and, as the demand increased abruptly and suddenly over the last few years, the supply couldn’t keep up.

However, within all this, we need to keep in mind why the demand has increased so dramatically in such a short time. When we consider this, we realize that there is a blessing in the shortage. While the shortage in supply can be explained, in part, due to a lack of demand in previous years, the increase in demand in recent years can be attributed to the growth of the Church. The LORD has richly blessed His covenant seed within their generations and our schools are experiencing this right now as this wave of covenant youth has entered the schools. This is a great blessing. That ought not be ignored and ought, instead, to be celebrated. So, while it may be hard to take it as a blessing, we can still rejoice and know that the Lord is good. His goodness shall not fail. May we take heart with the Psalmist in Psalm 89:3-4 as he writes, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.”

So that leaves us where we are today. High in demand. Short in supply. The bad part … this won’t be fixed immediately. It will be a few years for those in college and those entering into education out of high school to graduate and enter into the workforce. The good part … if you’re interested in education, there will be jobs, Lord willing. Our schools are growing at a prestigious rate and that doesn’t look to be slowing down. To those with a heart to teach…you will have a place to teach. The schools need you. And so we wait, and we trust, and we pray. We pray that the Lord grants abundant patience and lasting trust as we wait but also that He instills liberally among our young people a love for His people and a desire to teach. But, as in all things, may His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Mr. Ethan Mingerink is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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