Some days are better than others.
Erica Mouton ‘16, a supply teacher in the Hamilton-Wentworth district school board, walks into the classroom she has been assigned to cover with, most days, no idea what to expect. “I pray on my way to work every morning. I pray for wisdom; I pray for the children in my classrooms; I pray for patience. Sometimes, I just say, ‘please, Lord.’”
Storybook tucked under her arm—no matter what, she’s learned, students will settle down and listen to stories—she searches the day’s classroom for lesson plans and supplies. “Some classrooms are so lovely: super organized, clearly marked, a pure joy. Others are chaotic and dirty with hardly any resources at hand. Supply teaching,” she quips, “equals adaptability.”
Students with behavioural issues are the most challenging for a supply teacher, who walks into each student’s life with no rapport, no knowledge of this student’s history, behaviour or knowledge of best approaches to work with. At the start of the day, Mouton reads through a letter from the teacher about the students who are very challenging. Some of the teacher’s strategies will work; others won’t. “The odd time, I have concluded that the message to the supply teacher should have said ‘RUN!!’. However, for a teacher, that is never an option. This is what we sign up for when we choose our vocation with passion in our hearts.”
The day’s work will be both maintaining control of the classroom and giving words of encouragement and praise whenever she can. “So many students come to school with baggage we have no knowledge of,” she says. “They bring their troubled hearts with them to school, and I cannot make a difference in that mess of emotions in just one day.” But, even on difficult days, Mouton finds hope. “I’m always amazed that even those difficult students, many times, will hug me and say ‘goodbye, Mrs. M!’”
Even in just a day, Mouton makes an impression on her students. “I feel humbled when a student repeats something that I shared with them — my personal approach to homework, for example. This amplifies the fact that students listen to what we say, that we do make a difference, that they watch us closely.”
“Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control translate into every religion and worldview.”
As a Christ follower in the public school system, Mouton considers the fruit of the Spirit her way to bring Christ into her classroom. “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control translate into every religion and worldview,” she explains. “My time at Redeemer has shown me the value of this. I have always felt at home and safe, loved in Christ by my peers and teachers. The kindness, joy, enthusiasm and goodness that my professors modeled to me is what my students need from me when I walk into my classroom. I must be faithful in my efforts: never give up on my students, pray through it all and trust God through each day. I must be gentle with my students because I do not know, from one day to another, how fragile their hearts and minds might be. Finally, self-control — many days I have to count to ten, to twenty and then try another way to get my students to focus on their work.”
Supply teaching isn’t easy, and it won’t be easy, either, once Mouton has a classroom of her own. But, Mouton asserts, “I have chosen my vocation knowing that I will be in it with God by my side. I believe that God will give me the tools I need and put people in my life to help me be the best teacher I can be.”
Each morning, Redeemer Bachelor of Education alumni welcome their students to classrooms right next door in Hamilton, Ont.; across Canada in provinces like British Columbia; and around the globe in countries like England, China and Honduras. “These teachers came to Redeemer with an awareness of the importance of the integrity of their beliefs and their teaching,” reflects Redeemer’s director of teacher education Dr. Phil Teeuwsen. “They participated in a teacher education program that encouraged this integrity and pushed them to define and refine their skills.” Now, they teach all kinds of learners — from many cultures, with different abilities and a myriad of personalities.
These teachers are shaped by nothing less than a radically biblical vision for education and for educators. “We teach from the perspective and faith that there is nothing that can be learned that is not God-breathed,” Teeuwsen continues. “We teach from a perspective that situates us in the biblical story.”
Following this biblical vision, Redeemer’s education program roots competency in the character refined by candidates’ values and beliefs. “Education gets at the heart of students and teachers,” Teeuwsen says, “and so teacher education builds character while it also focuses on competency.” Intellectually, teachers strive to meet the needs of each learner while creating learning communities from classrooms. “Spiritually,” Teeuwsen says, “teachers give of themselves and so must come to terms with who they really are in deep ways.”
Take Victoria Mulock ‘16, a first and second grade teacher at Heritage Christian School in Lindsay, Ont. From gently placing an ice pack on a swollen knee to facilitating restorative justice circles for broken friendships, Mulock’s work in one of Canada’s caring professions is characterized by relationship. “As a teacher, I know I am a role model that others emulate. That spotlight requires me to choose very carefully how I can live a life of integrity and godliness,” she says. “The Bible has a lot to say to those who are given positions of power or authority, and I think that teachers, who each have young people placed in their care, are doubly accountable for their practice. Jesus certainly had a lot to say to the scribes and Pharisees about their use of power and influence!”
Teachers are daily role models that students quickly learn to imitate—sometimes this is endearing, like picking up a favourite turn of phrase, or practical, like adopting a new approach to homework. But that mimicking also reflects the hearts and character of students and their teachers. “When I teach, I teach ‘myself’ to students,” Teeuwsen says. “That is humbling, perhaps even frightening, realization.”
In Mulock’s classroom, faith shapes her identity and practice. “I see every child as the handiwork of God, created specially in his image. Students, by virtue of this imago dei, deserve a high-quality education infused with godly wisdom, biblical principles and dignifying discipleship. Teaching students how to think critically and be discerning as God’s children in a broken world is paramount to me.” Of course, Mulock’s influence shows. “Here, I find many students asking difficult questions and thinking deeply about faith and how the stories of people from the past affect their lives today.”
The learning community Mulock is fostering was first modelled to her at Redeemer, both in her undergraduate and education degrees. “Redeemer served as my introduction to a Christian education setting, where I was immersed for the first time in an academy of teacher candidates and faculty who are united in their belief about the divine inspiration of Scripture and the lordship of Christ. I have certainly experienced the difference that has made for me and I in turn want to work to provide and promote this same life-changing educational experience to my students.”
“Teacher education faculty foster each student-teacher’s sense of mission and calling”
Teacher education faculty foster each student-teacher’s sense of mission and calling, stewarding it with experience in four education settings: public, Catholic, independent Christian and international. Redeemer’s teacher education program requires 110 placement days; the Ontario College of Teachers mandates 80. The mandated 80 days must be spent in schools which use the Ministry of Education curriculum, like an Ontario Catholic or public school. The extra 30 days Redeemer students spend allows them to gain experience in an independent Christian school; in an international context like Nicaragua or Honduras; or even in innovative settings, like a children’s hospital.
Many feel called to teach Aboriginal communities, with 19 percent of Redeemer’s 2016 education graduates working in First Nations schools and 12 percent in international schools. Christina DeVries ‘11 has been teaching on the Six Nations reserve in Oshweken, near Brantford, Ont., for six years. Starting with her first education class, she was very intentional about wanting to teach in an Indigenous community. “One of my professors at the time, Dr. Mary Ashun, challenged us to consider what part of education touched our hearts,” she says. “I chose to learn more about Canada’s First Nations.” DeVries attended events on the Six Nations reserve and completed one of her practicums there. She further prepared for work on the reserve by completing an Additional Qualification course in Teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit Children. Shortly after graduating, she accepted a post at one of the five schools in Oshweken. “Redeemer’s liberal arts education,” she reflects, “allows prospective teachers to broaden their horizons and gets them thinking in different ways. In this way, graduates are able to be better teachers when they take time to extend their thinking to understand Indigenous culture, traditions and beliefs.”
Diving into worldview also provides elementary and high school students with a deeper understanding of their curriculum and the related disciplines. Adrian Vander Vaart ‘12, a math teacher at Woodland Christian High School, takes on his subject’s reputation as dry and tedious by hosting “philosophy Wednesday” sessions with his students. “I see math as a living thing, with history and drama,” Vander Vaart explains. “To get at this, I teach the history of mathematics and I teach what math itself is.” One such way of understanding math is to see it as another Platonic form. “I had a student who was struggling to understand that idea throughout the class,” Vander Vaart recounts, “then it clicked for her and she quipped, ‘Math is just another chair we can’t see.’” That is, math is a perfect ideal, a way to imagine what could be.
“Truth has been articulated to us through Scripture,” Vander Vaart continues. “We can also uncover that truth through mathematics. It’s a discipline through which we can see the structure of God’s creation and the order God has put in place. Math helps us to uncover and understand our world as God created it.” His passion for the subject, ability to articulate its connection to faith and care for meeting his students where they are have an impact in Woodland’s classrooms. One such example: “I had a student give me a Christmas card. There was a nice, generic greeting, and the student had written underneath, ‘P.S. I don’t hate math anymore.’ It’s a small victory,” Vander Vaart laughs, “but a victory all the same.”
Our national conversations about education say little about the impact of faith and worldview on learning. “At Redeemer, students in the education program, and indeed all students, should expect that their spiritual lives and their lives in general will be made deeper and richer by learning through the lens of a biblical worldview,” says Dr. David Zietsma, Redeemer’s vice president for enrolment. “A worldview is always present when education occurs. There is not an absence of worldview in a secular post-secondary education institution. In the secular context there is an underlying faith in a strange mixture of scientism and relativism that results in the foundational worldview that there is no god outside of ourselves, and therefore humanity exists for its own end, for its own self-fulfillment.”
Christian educators are crucial for the cultural growth and reclamation required as we seek God’s shalom. Redeemer fosters learning and scholarship at all levels—for example, monitoring pollution in Hamilton watersheds with high school students—directly related to issues that students and their communities face. Redeemer is part of today’s revitalized Christian movement to create culture, care for creation and seek the flourishing of our communities. Our teachers tackle the big ideas, and their students become the cultural, political and business leaders who use and build on those big ideas to renew and reclaim God’s kingdom.