A Christian Teacher in the Public Arena

by Shirley W. Wilson

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.John 17:18

Lunch boxes of every shape and size; backpacks; chalkdust; dusty books; broken equipment; outdated computers; upright pianos; kickballs; tiny chairs; coffee stains and leftover donut sugar; reams of paper; paperclips; bulletin boards; yellow buses. I confess. I loved the place called school, the place I came back to every September, the place that produced baggy eyes, sleepless nights, tired joints, and exasperation. But, to me it didn’t matter because it was “home.”

God called me to this place, this mission station, and I reveled in it. After teaching for 32 years and now living in retirement, I recall the ways that God equipped, encouraged, and used me in that place.

The opposition that I received actually helped me form my strong sense of calling to the public school. God does not call all Christian teachers into the public arena, but many He does. He will equip you if He has called you here.

Consider the opposition I experienced that led me to my decision to stay in the public school. Twice, that I remember, I heard angry people passionately state their opinion that Christians don’t belong in public schools. One said that the devil controls and influences everything in the public schools. This same person said that I should separate myself from such an environment. Another, an angry parent-after I had taught his daughter in my public school-told me about the abysmal failure of my school. He stated that his daughter had tried several schools, even home-school, and now he had started a private school for her. He rejected the limitations the public school places on Christians and felt that, at last, he had found a place of ultimate freedom for teaching truth.

Feeling battered and bruised emotionally from this encounter, I pondered his words before the Lord. I began to realize that Christians have limitations in a private Christian school, too. I touched students with Christ’s love in the public school who would never have the opportunity for a Christian education. I could pray for and encourage those students who attended my school. I knew that Christ also loved these public school students. Scripture teaches that the word of God is not chained. I prayed that day that God would write His word on my heart, so that it would flow like living ink from a pen, as an expression of Christ’s love. Yes, the Word is not chained. And, the Holy Spirit is not bound either.

Now that I have retired from public school teaching, I am challenged to remember those of you still in the battle. I offer you my encouragement, as well as my prayers. From experience I can say that God gives sufficient strength and help for anything He calls you to do as a teacher. Although some of your work will never seem successful to you, you can trust it to God and know that He will make of it what He wills for His purposes.

Much of what we perceive as success probably has little significance for the Kingdom. And, many things which we have done and long forgotten will have a lasting effect on the lives of our students and fellow educators. Trust it all to God, and realize that to see the fruit of your many labors you will have to wait until the next world reveals it.

With that in mind, let me offer a few admonitions-in no particular order-to current teachers:

  • Enjoy teaching and have fun. God gives us freedom to enjoy our work, and to spread His joy to those around us. Christ will show forth in a teacher who enjoys his or her students enough to create lessons for them that take into account their need for fun. Curiously, this kind of fun spreads throughout a whole grade level, or wing of the building, or throughout the school, making a day brighter for all. God wants His joy to show through you.
  • Genuinely love and serve others. Treat your students with respect and Christian love. Find ways to always encourage and build them up. Enough other people will tear them down.
  • Submit, as much as possible, to your administrators and to fellow workers. Let all know you as a genuine friend and colleague who works peaceably with everyone and brings encouragement to the school culture in which you find yourself. When you have to disagree, keep the conversation from becoming personal.
  • Pray regularly in your secret closet, constantly as you work, and in concert with other believers in your school. Pray for your students. Only God can truly make the changes in them that you would like to see. Be aware of God’s presence with you in the classroom. Stay alert to His Spirit who can correct, empower, and encourage you.
  • Stay in the Scriptures, and read them for special insight into your teaching situation. Share your trials and triumphs with other Christian teachers. Find a few Christians in your building or school system with whom you can regularly pray (on your own time).
  • Keep yourself on the alert for the enemy who will try to derail your witness and spoil your joy in service to the Lord. Remember that our God remains the “All-mighty,” fully capable of helping and carrying you through every situation.
  • Take every opportunity for professional training. The excellence for which you strive reflects on your Lord.
  • Always dress and act like a professional. Attract others to Christ through attention to your demeanor.
  • Be friendly with everyone, but resist getting involved in gossip.
  • Volunteer for school and district-wide committees. As a Christian you can influence policy making and curriculum selection, but remember that you gain respect over time, and your reputation as a teacher of excellence and a team-player will allow you a place on such committees.
  • Be punctual, dependable, and keep promises you’ve made. Even those who do not profess Christ hold Christians to a higher standard!
  • Be humble and learn from others. Nobody likes a know-it-all.
  • Learn your legal rights as a public school teacher, and prepare yourself to articulate and defend your position in a reasonable and kind manner.(An organization that makes it their mission to equip Christians in public schools is Christian Educators Association, International. They can help! Find them at www.CEAI.org.)
  • Give thanks that God has called you to the noble profession of teaching. Find ways to celebrate your teaching, your students, colleagues and school community.

God bless all your efforts in behalf of His kingdom.

As Children’s Ministry Leaders it is important to pray for the teachers and intentionally connect with public schools. INCM is pleased to offer a one-day seminar, Religion in Public Schools. This training is beneficial for children’s and family ministry leaders, parents, teachers and students. Consider hosting a Religion in Public Schools Seminar for your community.

Since 2005, Shirley W. Wilson has served as Music Associate/Organist and Children at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Erie, Pennsylvania. Prior to this, she taught elementary and middle school music in the public schools of Delevan, New York and Bloomfield, Connecticut and retired in 2001.

Shirley holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Houghton College, 30 graduate hours in music from Hartt School of the University of Hartford, and a master’s degree in elementary education from Central Connecticut State University. In 1996, she was selected as Teacher of the Year for her school district.

Shirley founded and held the position of president of a Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) chapter in the Hartford, CT area for 15 years, and served on the national board of directors for 9 years.

She has been married to her husband, Dean, for 42 years.

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