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Teachers’ Religious Faith as They Work with Diverse Students

By Kim Marshall, TIE Columnist

The article: “Personal faith and professional practice,” by Jillian Lederhouse in Educational Horizons, December 2011/January 2012, pp. 13-15;
In this Educational Horizons article, Wheaton College (IL) education professor Jillian Lederhouse says that every one of the budding teachers in her program is an evangelical Christian. “Faith in Jesus Christ serves as my students’ motivation for teaching,” she says. “Their goal is to teach with excellence because they see their service to others as a way to answer God’s call of serving Him.” Yet virtually all of them will end up teaching in public schools that have as many as ten different ethnic groups and religions represented in each classroom.
Dr. Lederhouse and her fellow professors make clear to their teachers-to-be the responsibilities they will take on as “agents of the state” in public schools, and preach the separation of church and state. “But this does not imply that teachers must isolate their spiritual selves from their professional selves,” she says. “In fact, they cannot leave their faith outside the classroom even if they tried; no one can… Our inner life influences our exterior life, and we must continually examine when it may be limiting and when it may be beneficial, whether that influence involves our faith, our politics, or our family.”
The bridge, Dr. Lederhouse suggests, is a set of universal values that teachers of all religious faiths might embrace as they enter their classrooms:
• Regarding each learner as individually special and worthy. This includes getting to know their talents and interests inside and outside of school.
• Being a peacemaker. Students and the adults around them “live in circumstances that are often difficult, unfair, and stressful,” says Lederhouse. Teachers should have high expectations not only in schoolwork but in the way people treat one another.
• Advocating for educational justice. “Fully invest yourself in offering your learners the best methods and materials,” she urges. “When resources are scarce or nonexistent, lobby for them, seek grants, or enlist donations and volunteers.”
• Teaching a rich and rigorous curriculum. This should include the cultural contributions of different religions, says Lederhouse, as well as issues of spirituality that are helpful in analyzing the foundational questions of life.
Can teachers do their best work with children whose families’ beliefs and practices are contrary to their own? Yes, says Dr. Lederhouse; in fact, she believes it is a moral imperative: “I would expect my graduates to care especially for the child who is shunned or belittled by others, for whatever reason,” she says, “because it is this student who most needs an understanding adult to protect and advocate on his or her behalf… I have had the privilege of working with exemplary mentor teachers of all faiths through our students’ clinical experiences in public schools. I would hope that all of my graduates would be similarly exceptional teachers: hard-working, creative, learner-focused, and able to bring out the academic best in every one of their students.”
Summary reprinted from Marshall Memo 417, 2 January 2012.

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