Every time I hear the phrase “we have taken God out of our schools” which is often followed by why our schools and country are in dire trouble, I cringe. Admittedly, I am hypersensitive to these subjects because I am passionate about both my faith and education. In my life these areas are not mutually exclusive. I don’t check my faith at the door of Room 128 just as I don’t ever truly leave my job. My faith and my classroom both shape who I am. If God is no longer in our schools, I am left with a series of questions. What is the role of Christian teachers in public education? As a believer, should I no longer be in public education because my presence condones a culture where God is not present? Are public schools past the point of redemption and no longer used to accomplish God’s purposes? What does God think of public education?
I am privileged to work with so many passionate educators who are also believers and have asked three to share their thoughts on teaching in a public school. I will share a few of my own thoughts at the end.
“The US government has tried to take God out of the schools, but I firmly believe to counteract that, God has equipped and called us “believer teachers” to implant ourselves on the front lines and love on these students. I teach the lower end learners who have much bigger problems than what test they pass, essay they need to write, etc. It is a privilege to show the students that I am on their side and that I care about life outside of essays and novels. There is a huge need and “appetite” in today’s teens for love, affirmation and acceptance. Once giving this to a teenager/student, even the “toughest” kids respect you and will want to learn because they realize life isn’t all about academics. I also think that this is the most crucial part of my job. I am here to teach all things English, yes, but I am also here to help students figure out life. I hate hearing that “public schools are going to hell” when in fact, I have had more conversations this school year with students about how I manage heartache in this life than any other year I’ve taught. I firmly believe in being “Jesus with skin on” for the sake of our students’ souls. After all, God uses the available, not necessarily the qualified.” – Erin Mayo, East Coweta High School, Newnan, GA
I have loved sharing the journey with Erin as she struggled to determine if God was calling her to public education after teaching in a Christian school. Erin and I share the same philosophy: teachers in public education are on the front lines of missions. Due to some tragic circumstances, Erin has had the opportunity to live out her faith this year, and her students are watching and learning. I also love that Erin posts a daily picture from her devotional on her Instagram.
“The latest school shooting in Florida seems to have fully tipped the scale. Now EVERYONE is spewing brash judgments about violence, guns, politics, and how they each function within and influence our culture. The divide between ideologies about how to fix school shootings only seems to widen. One argument espoused by more conservative groups is that these violent acts are punishment for taking God out of public schools and that public schools will only continue to decay and fail because of this decision. I would refute that sentiment by saying God has not been taken out of schools, but God is being taken out of our culture, and not just by our society and the government, but by apathetic Christians who would rather judge than love. As a public school teacher, I’m allowed the opportunity to connect with students daily who are otherwise abused, ignored, and alienated by parents and peers. God hasn’t been taken out of public schools, because myself and other believers are still in these schools trying our hardest to simply make a difference, one student at a time.” – Brian Carson, Northgate High School, Newnan, GA
Brian not only teaches teenagers but is very active in the youth ministry at our church. His life is all about influencing teens, and I love that he models relational teaching at our school. His home and his room at school are usually full of teens. Check out the Carson Infusion Group!
As long as believers teach in our schools, God is in our schools. Instead of being in a private Christian school where, presumably, the vast majority of students are already saved, a public school teacher has even more of an opportunity to show the love of Christ to non-believers. And to teenage Christians who experience a crisis of faith, teachers have an important role as counselor, confidant, and encourager. I believe teaching is a calling. There are many other things that I could be doing, but my God-given talent lies in teaching and nurturing relationships with young people.” – Adrian Nester, Danville, VA, Learning Curve blog
Adrian sums up exactly how I feel: God is in our school as long as believers are present there. She is also right in that most teachers of faith are living out a calling on their lives; I think this is true for me. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) When I walk into Room 128 every day, I am not working for Coweta County; I am working for the Lord. (But I thank CCSS for paying me).
God is alive and at work in our schools through teachers who are believers, through students who are believers, and through His own power. No law can stop God from accomplishing what He wants accomplished. And while the law may keep me from reading the Bible and praying with students during the day, I strive to show “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
I hope that my students will remember me to be a good English teacher, but I hope even more that many will remember me as a person of faith even though they may not fully realize my beliefs when they sit in my class. A few years ago a college student sent a note saying, “Your kindness was light to me when I was in darkness. God used you to point me to him even though I didn’t recognize it then.” I think about this often and pray that my room will always be a place of light, hope, and refuge for students.
This is what I ask of my non-teacher friends: pray for teachers. I see lots and lots of posts about how horrible public education is and how God is no longer in our schools; I would encourage you to spend less time pointing fingers and more time bowing a knee and asking God to help teachers make a difference in the lives of students. And when you’re finished praying for teachers, pray for students who are living out their faith on a daily basis.
If you’re a teacher, be bold. Live out your faith unapologetically. Work in a way that honors the Lord. Pray for your students; pray for coworkers. Be salt and light.
He is risen.
He is risen indeed.
Even in public schools.