I have put off writing about this practice because I have not wanted to discourage teachers through identifying negative pedagogical behavior. However, based on over 27 years of experience in education, I must state that I firmly believe that sometimes teachers fail to make the connection between how they run their classroom and the resulting impact they have on their students’ faith development. I will be the first to admit that, in hindsight, I used pedagogical practices during my teaching career that no doubt discouraged the faith of my young students, and I have sought forgiveness and God’s grace in this regard. Confession is good for the soul but best if it results in positive change. In the hope of building awareness and encouraging teachers toward encouraging student faith, I offer these observations.
Youth are particularly sensitive to issues of justice and have well tuned hypocrisy meters. Teachers who give a wonderful devotion on showing love to one another and then five minutes later publicly call out student test scores obviously fail to see how the inconsistency of their behavior can damage a student’s spirit and render ineffective other good modeling they may have done. One misstep can wipe out weeks of good effort. Student faith development is discouraged and dampened when teachers play favorites, engage in indefensible grading practices, or implement discipline systems that demean and degrade students. When students see other students treated unfairly or even humiliated in some way through words or actions, they have a tough time respecting what the teacher advocates in their teaching, because they have lost trust in the goodness of the teacher. No wonder Jesus advises that teaching is a most serious endeavor (see James 3:1).
Teachers who are careful to live out their Christian faith in every aspect of their pedagogical practice are truly a blessing to their students and their administrators. I appreciate what author Harro Van Brummelen says in this regard: “[Teachers] create space in which students may seek and experience truth, depth of insight, discernment, justice, compassion and integrity” (from monograph- Curriculum: Implementation in Three Christian Schools). Christian teachers encourage faith in their students by demonstrating authenticity and consistency in every aspect of their classroom. They are careful to guard the dignity of each student as made in the image of God and give serious thought to the impact of each pedagogical decision on their students’ faith development. When the best teachers inevitably make mistakes, they have the humility to admit their mistakes to the students and seek forgiveness. By this action they not only restore the trust of their students and refine their craft as professionals, but more importantly they nurture the faith of their students.
*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.