Teach The Children Well

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Teachers.”

“I believe this passionately — we don’t grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Or, rather, we’re educated out of it.” — Ken Robinson

I came across that quote a while back, and liked enough to save it. Interesting thoughts there about the nature of creativity. I considered making it my sidebar quote after I heard it but didn’t because — moment of transparency here — I was dating a teacher and didn’t want to offend her.

But that gets into the dichotomy of my thoughts about the education system — the difference between the macrocosm and the microcosm. Do I believe that quote? Yeah, I kind of think I do. Do I believe it’s true of the woman I was seeing? No, I really don’t. Not remotely.

And, her aside, I know a lot of teachers. Almost all of my coworkers are former classroom teachers. Some of my best friends are teachers. Several members of my Bible study group are teachers. My mother has been a teacher. And on and on. So which of them do I look at, and say, oh, so-and-so is clearly responsible for educating the creativity out of children? Not a one of them. Every teacher I’m close to seems to be the sort of person who really encourages their students to aspire to be their best.

One of my coworkers did post that same quote on Facebook not long afterwards. I was a bit surprised. Doesn’t that apply a bit of culpability for the problem if you’re part of the system that creates it?

I actually came close to being a teacher myself. Toward the end of my college career, I went through a crisis of faith in newspapers, and started pursuing education. I didn’t completely quit journalism, but started doing the two together. I worked for a while as a substitute teacher, and took the classes necessary for me to be certified to teach in Mississippi. The substitute teaching, I enjoyed. The coursework, on the other hand, I completed with absolutely no desire to teach. I was taught educational psychology and tests and measurements and and behavior management. But at no point was I taught who to convey information I had to students who didn’t. At no point was I taught how to, you know, teach. And an education system that thought it was reasonable to produce teachers who had been taught many things that didn’t include how to actually teach was one that I had no interest in being a part of.

Now, to be fair, I associate with awesome people. I’m pretty confident there are teachers who are not like the teachers I know; I’m just blessed to associate with the cream of the crop. From my newspaper days, I remember some really great teachers. I also remember plenty of other teachers. Teachers for whom teaching was a job, not a passion. Teachers who were a product of the courses that taught me how to value the system over teaching. Teachers who taught to a class, not a group of individual students. The best teachers I know care about their students. Individually. They do what they do because they want to see each individual student in the class be the best he or she can.

I think my confusion came from assuming the dichotomy is false. How can the education system be taking creativity out of students if the individual teachers are doing a great job? But I think it’s a real dichotomy. I think the system does have flaws. But I think there are a lot of hardworking teachers out there doing great work. No matter what the system requires them to do or not do with standards and discipline and assessments and inclusion and curriculum and whatever else, it can’t prevent them from caring about students.

And the teachers who do, those are the ones we’re blessed to have in the classroom, and who deserve our gratitude and encouragement.

On The Road Again

I didn’t go to Sojourn Sunday for church.

There’s a post coming about where I did go, but first I needed to write this post to provide context for it.

I believe my journey has resumed. It’s time for me, I think, to start visiting churches again. Not because I’m not happy, and not because I’m looking for a new church. In fact, even saying I’m “visiting churches” again is not entirely accurate.

The journey started about two years ago, with the groundwork laid before that when I started attending a house-based church. We had no building, we didn’t even always meet at the same house. Or at the same time. Or every week Our pastor had no formal ordination, and we sought no official church status.

And that led to discussions. “I was at church Saturday night and … ” “That’s not church.” “Why not?” “Well, you don’t have a building.” “So the church is the building?” “You don’t have a preacher.” “Why do you have to have a preacher?”

I realized that I didn’t know the answers to a lot of those questions. Why do churches have a preacher? Is that a requirement? Where does that come from? What does make a church a church? What are the requirements? What does the Bible say about what a church is?

I did a lot of reading, both of scripture and other books; one of which I’ll recommend — Pagan Christianity? I did a lot of discussing it, and did a lot of praying and meditating on it.

I came out of that with a lot of changes about how I see the idea of church, which probably flavors some of what I write on here. My view of what a pastor is, for example, has been radically redefined in a way that has serious functional implications. We tend to treat “pastor” and “preacher” as synonyms, while, really, I don’t think they have anything at all to do with each other. A pastor doesn’t have to preach. A pastor doesn’t have to be the top guy in a church. In fact, those misconceptions really hurt the church a lot, because it means that most Christians don’t really have a pastor, at least not that they recognize. “Pastor” isn’t a career, it’s a relationship. It’s a shepherd. It’s someone who can leave the 99 to find the one. The guy who knows members of his congregation only as faces in the crowd when he’s preaching can’t really be a pastor to them. If you don’t have a personal relationship with your pastor, you don’t have a pastor. OK, rant over.

But one of the earliest things that came out of that research was the idea of where I go to church. If I were talking to Jesus or Paul, and they asked where I went to church, what would I say? Well, I go to Whitesburg. But that means nothing to them. No church names in the Bible, that’s not a language they would speak. Well, I’m a Baptist. Again, blank stares. (I mean, obviously, Jesus, being God, would get it, but you know what I mean.) No denominations in the Bible, despite what the Catholics or Church of Christ would have you believe. Well, um, then … I’m part of … the church at Huntsville. Ah, OK!! That means something. Like the church at Jerusalem. Or the church of Corinth. Or …

The lightbulb goes off. I come home and promptly change my religious affiliation on Facebook from “Christian – Baptist” to “Christian – Huntsville,” becoming the only member of that particular religion. And that’s still how I list myself there. But what does that mean? Well, when Paul wrote his epistles, he wasn’t writing to one particular congregation, he was writing them to the church in the city, the collection of congregations there. My “church” isn’t Whitesburg, it’s the body of believers in Huntsville. Whitesburg could be my congregation, but it’s not my church.

But again, what does that mean? What do I know about my church? Basically, nothing. At that point, I’d regularly attended three churches in Huntsville, all Southern Baptist. I don’t know that, in my entire life, I’d ever attended a non-Baptist church for two weeks in a row. My familiarity with the body of believers was very limited. So I needed to rectify that.

I was ready to start doing that, but God wasn’t ready for me to. There were things I needed to learn at Whitesburg first. He had me stay there another 10 weeks to teach me some things, some very personal and some simply using Whitesburg as the first step in the journey, helping me not to see it as a church, but as a congregation within my church, one that served a particular purpose for particular people. I’m glad He did. It opened my eyes in a way that was key to the journey; helping me to see not through my particular biases but through the beautiful variety in the body that provides diverse homes for diverse people. I went into new churches not with the self-focused approach of “Is this place right” but with the view of, “What does this place offer people.”

I spent about a year doing that, in various forms. I left Whitesburg and visited, in a dramatic leap, a Southern Baptist church that wasn’t Whitesburg. I went on to spend time being Catholic, Methodist, Church of Christ, non-denominational, etc. And learned something everywhere I went. And tended to find myself where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

During the journey, I had no idea how it would end, or even if it would. And I never had any intention for Sojourn to become my new congregation, but, a year after I left Whitesburg, I realized that, apparently it was. And I like Sojourn, a lot.

But now, I feel like I’m supposed to begin journeying again. I have no idea what that means, how long that lasts, what I’m supposed to be looking for. I’ve known it was coming, and I knew where I was supposed to go last week. And I know what I’m supposed to do this coming Sunday, and that’s it.

This doesn’t reflect any discontent with Sojourn; I’m still very happy there. I will continue to be very involved there. In fact, this is very different than the first time, which required me leaving Whitesburg as my church. Sojourn has never been my church; it’s been one congregation in my church I’ve been involved with. And that doesn’t change at all.

And so, I begin my journey again. I have no idea that destination, but I’m looking forward to what He’ll do as I’m journeying. And I suspect that in this and so many other things, that’s the way He likes it.