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0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 13.0px}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}IntroductionAs a Christian educator, it is vital to determine what it means to teach Christianly before walking into the classroom. If we believe Jesus is Lord of all, then we know that he can not be a part-time God. Likewise, we can not be part-time Christians, just as we can not be a part-time son or daughter. Van Dyk (1997), author of Letters to Lisa outlines that ‘as Christians we do not have the choice whether or not to teach Christianly’ (pg 5). It is not an optional thing as our fundamental beliefs; our Christian worldview form a part of who we are.

To teach authentically, we must teach who we are and through what we believe. Parker Palmer (1998) affirms this in his book The ‘Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teachers Life’ where he states ‘Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher’. Within his text, Van Dyk discusses various ways a teacher can implement effective teaching and learning through a Christian belief systems. Three key parts of his text highlight a teachers attributes, the classroom environment and the planning of the curriculum as essential to the teaching and learning process. Keeping these in mind, this paper will discuss how these three factors are important in the development of effective teacher and students relationships.  Attributes of a teacher:Positive attributes of a teacher are vital to contributing towards the development of an effective teacher/student relationship. Christian teachers need to not only actively demonstrate discipleship of God in the classroom, but need to teach and provide opportunities for students to practice this. The easiest way to describe discipleship, is by looking at the way a person demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit in their lives.

These are described by Van Dyk (1997) as ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (pg 6). It is important for a Christian teacher to model these within the classroom. A teacher can be competent and well equiped in their subject content, but if they ‘have not love and patience and the other fruits of the Spirit, their teaching doesn’t amount to a bowl of chilli beans’ (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 6). What he is saying here is that if a Christian teacher does not possess these fruits, they may be teaching the curriculum, and even doing an adequate job, but are not teaching Christianly. When a Christian teacher models these fruits within the classroom, they will be able to develop a stronger relationship with their students as it will be evident that they are teaching authentically. This comes back to teaching who you are.

An authentic teacher, someone who acts and teaches in relation to what they believe and value, will inspire students to learn to be authentic themselves. As Van Dyk (1997) firmly states in his book ‘our classrooms are expressions of the body of Christ’. Christian teachers need making this a reality to be a priority within their classroom. They can not teach their student’s about the fruits, and tell them how to walk this out whilst enabling individualism and unhealthy competition within their learning activities. To teach Christianly involves guiding, unfolding and enabling (Van Dyk, 1997). To guide students, teachers encourage student’s into discipleship by modelling the fruits of the Spirit and ‘encouraging, disciplining and structuring their classrooms for learning’ (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 9). An authentic teacher who displays these attributes in the way they teach will form a strong relationship with their student’s built on truth and honesty.

Atmosphere of classroom:The atmosphere that a teacher creates within their classroom is another component that will ultimately contribute to the relationships they have with their students. It is in the classroom that a sense of community needs to be facilitated. As Van Dyk (1997, pg 8) reflects on, the Apostle Paul tells us how teachers have been appointed to teach student’s what they need in order to prepare them for works of service. This tells us about the importance of allowing student’s to be of service to each other, and creating an atmosphere within the classroom that allows them to do so. A classroom needs to be a safe and happy environment where student’s are encouraged to help each other and work together. They need to be able to trust each other and more importantly, trust the teacher.

Van Dyk (1997) puts forward that ‘our classrooms should be places where the Holy Spirit loves to be present’ (pg 7). Where the Holy Spirit dwells, there is no fear. This is where being careful how to discipline the student’s comes into action. Discipline needs to be done in a loving and restorative matter that will help guide students back to where they need to be. Just as Van Dyk (1997) addresses on page 89, the bible addresses that if one part of the body (community) hurts, then the whole body hurts. Likewise, if on part of the body rejoices, the whole body rejoices.

This is where avoiding individualism is vital. For example, if the teacher creates a sense of competition within the classroom, it can create a number of issues within the community. These issues can include a tension within the classroom, students relying on and wishing for their peers to fail and striving for the teachers attention and approval, and the overall success of one student depending on the failure of another (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 80). Allowing student’s to ask and answer others questions can help contribute to avoiding this sort of thing happening.

It can be beneficial for the teacher to not repeat a student’s answers so to encourage the class to listen to each other. A brilliant piece of advice that Van Dyk (1997) puts forward is that when it comes to asking questions and having class discussions, clear expectations need to be made at the beginning of the year. Here, a teacher should discuss with the student’s the type of classroom they wish to create, as well as the expected behaviour that will be appropriate. This will allow the teacher the opportunity to stop discussions whenever they here a negative remark towards another student, and to re-address the expectations that they helped create at the beginning. If a classroom is not a loving and serving community, ‘trust will be replaced by suspicion, love by self-centredness, and service by unhealthy competition’ (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 87).

Planning curriculum:When a teacher gets to know their student’s, and plans accordingly to their individual gifts and needs, they help to create a positive and safe learning environment. As Van Dyk (1997) firmly states, ‘our ability to love a person…is closely related to how well we really know the person’ (pg 97). Teachers need to recognise the individual gifts of their student’s and to teach the whole child. Without teaching the whole child, a teacher will fail to recognise individual gifts, and without recognising those individual gifts, the teacher will fail to teach the whole child. Looking at the student’s learning styles, their interests, life experiences, hopes and fears, their dreams and how they feel towards God, will help the teacher to contribute to not only authentic learning activities, but a better relationship between the teacher and the student (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 98). With these considerations in mind, the teacher will have a better chance of combining subject-centred and student-centred learning to achieve the ultimate goal of a school – ‘equipping students to function as knowledgeable and competent disciples of the Lord’ (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 53). It is vital for educators to not neglect lesson planning, objectives and goals, so as to not lose their professionalism, but to be aware of the importance of expressive objectives within the classroom.

Performance objectives are important for situations that require the teacher to know whether or not their students have understood and mastered specific content and skills. However, if these ‘objectives become the rule’ (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 18), then teachers become vulnerable to the danger of emerging themselves in behaviourism. This can lead to them and their students believing that real learning only occurs when students demonstrate in a measurable way the skills they have learnt. Expressive objectives will help the teacher to encourage diversity within the classroom. For example, Van Dyk (1997, pg 19) talks about a task such as writing a creative poem or story. If two students were to produce the same piece, it would seem as if they were copying of cheating.

As Van Dyk (1997) goes on to affirm, performance objectives lead to conformity, while expressive objectives encourage diversity or creativity’ (pg 19). Whilst it is important for the class to master similar skills and concepts, it is equally important for them to be able to express their individual creativity and imaginativity. When creating a curriculum for a class, a teacher must keep in mind, and aim towards the overarching goal of schools: to equip students for works of service, so as to lead them into discipleship.

ConclusionOnly when a teacher develops a classroom where learning content and skills, developing the students’ capacity to think critically, allowing for creativity and imaginative abilities, hands-on learning and social and emotional development all have a place, will they create a safe and effective learning environment. It is in this type of environment, where students will recognise positive attributes of the teacher that they wish to apply to their individual lives, thus, creating a more positive and effective relationship between them and their educator. No teacher has the perfect methodology or teaching strategies that make them a perfect Christian (or non-Christian) teacher. No school is, as Van Dyk (1997) says, “completely and thoroughly professional in all its ways” (pg 197).

However, if Jesus were to walk in to a teachers classroom or school, “He would probably ask-even demand: ‘But are you working at it?'” (Van Dyk, 1997, pg 197).


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