Because life is a series of edits

Educator Interview

In Education on October 3, 2007 at 8:28 am

(For my Educational Foundations class at Covenant this semester, I was assigned to interview a teacher and write a paper connecting his or her perspectives to the various educational theories – and they are Legion – that we’ve been reading about for class. Ken teaches at a public school, is a member of our church, and as his comments were more interesting than the readings, I’ve pulled them for you below.)

My friend, Ken, has been in education for seventeen years, teaching grammar to middle schoolers at a public school here in St. Louis. Jovial, with a flash of crazy always in his piercing brown eyes, one wonders whether Ken’s quick wit and good humor qualify him for teaching middle schoolers, or if they’re armaments he’s developed over time to do so.

Ken’s biggest success in teaching has been finding his own style – developing his storytelling proclivities, speaking in analogies, and using narrative to connect with kids – whereas a more direct approach almost never worked. “Grammar itself is not really that intriguing unless you just love the language,” he said. “I’m glad to have developed my style and tack on things as I go, but it took a while and is never static.”

According to Ken, his biggest mistake is one he says he makes every year. “It’s my own fault because I’m a big softie at heart and loathe confrontation, but I’d rather deal with the silence of resentment from than the silence of meting out punishment. Sometimes I feel like I’m too easy-going and need to make sure my velvet fist is more fist than less velvet. It’s a fine line.”

Ken has been a Christian from his youth. He attended a Christian school in seventh grade, but didn’t care much for the setting, finishing his junior/senior high education in public school. Considering his background and his own experience of these two models of education, I asked him how he taught from a Christian worldview in the midst of a public school setting.

“You teach what you know and from who you are,” he said. “It’s like the Play-Doh Fun Factory – if you set it on the ‘star’ setting, you’re going to get a star when you push the Play-Doh through. Whether the students know it or not, I’m teaching universal literary topics like love and sacrifice that the gospel encompasses. Though I’m not allowed to expound, I have grounded credibility in presenting these virtues because of my identity as a believer who knows the love and sacrifice of Jesus on his behalf.”

I asked Ken how he thought about moral development in the public school classroom and in our era of postmodernity. He responded by stating that, at least in the classroom, even postmoderns agree there are some morals that are inviolable. “If you’re a kid, you can’t just walk into a room and shove another kid – you can’t do that. Abuse (verbal, physical, or emotional) is not tolerated in the classroom – everyone knows that.”

“As a Christian teacher,” he continued, “I believe the big stuff doesn’t change either, so you treat it as such, state it as such, and argue if they choose to argue. Then you get kids to think for themselves rather than along postmodern sound bites, which I think God really likes and prefers over someone just agreeing because 12 people told you to.”

Ken attended Baylor University’s school of education, which, he said, was helpful in terms of time management, educational philosophy, and basic knowledge. “But,” he added, “being a teacher is like being a mechanic – you can study cars and internal combustion, fuses, computers, etc., but you really only know when somebody drives in and puts it on the lift and it’s you and the car, and you have to figure it out in a way to fix it with your hands on it. In my happy privilege, I have 25 cars up on lifts at a time, and every one of them needs to be approached slightly different, as they’re all different models, some of which have been treated well, and some not so well by their owners.”

I asked Ken for his observations on student development today. He thought his students were developing similarly to how he did in seventh grade – getting a grasp on life, going from concrete to abstract, spreading out their world to determine relevance.” Broadening his evaluative scope into high school, Ken said high schoolers seem to have different goals than he did at that age, as they seem driven by standardization and much more of a scientific feel to education, almost bordering on the industrial. “Kids today are offered a better education,” he said, “but whether they’re equipped to take advantage of it and make it theirs depends on where they are in their adolescence.”

When I asked what he thought about the future of education, Ken lamented how the American consumer mentality makes kids “clientele” who get to “decide” if they’re going to be interested in the classroom, having assumed this right from parents who just drop their kids off “like a car at an auto shop,” with little sense of responsibility at home in support of their kids’ education. “Our schools aren’t failing our children, our parents are; but you can’t hold parents accountable with legislation like you can a school.”

As we finished the interview, I asked Ken for one question he’d like to ask and answer. He chose a good one: What responsibility does the Christian community have to public school education? His two answers: less vilification and prayer. “For Christian parents to fear non-Christian teachers is wrong. We’re not warring against people, but against the enemy holding some of these brilliant teachers in delusion. If you take the salt and light out, what ‘Jesus’ is left?”

  1. very interesting interview! i found the comparison of teaching with an auto mechanic to be quite unique:) (my parents were both teachers.) you put a thought process of mine into WAY better words than i could have…and of course, more concisely. thanks. i have a great article to pass on to friends. ps. also liked the playdough analogy. m

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