By Susan E. Johnson, Ph.D.
The school bus rounded the corner as an energetic and diverse gathering of young students organized themselves and their backpacks and were quickly swallowed by the yellow doors.
I found myself wondering what they would find in their day as I drove off to mine. Would they be taught by a teacher who effectively challenged their thinking and learning? Would they be physically and emotionally safe in their classroom? How would the day’s experience affect their thinking about the values and attitudes held by their family?
These are common questions considered by parents and echoed in the intense public debates over how to improve education for all children. The quality of teachers continues to be at the center of that debate. The public understands and research supports the idea that teachers do influence student learning. However, there are many misconceptions about what contributes to effective teaching and how to best prepare teachers for the complexity of classroom practice.
Demanding Classrooms, Challenging Decisions
Classrooms today are demanding communities. They’re characterized by wide cultural, language, academic and attitudinal differences. Teachers need to respond to a continual flow of decisions related to their instructional practice and the learning of their students while attending to these wide differences.
This is not simple and it involves a professional sophistication that can easily be overlooked since decisions are layered and often filled with conflicting priorities. If teachers choose to challenge students who are highly capable will they then frustrate students who are struggling due to learning difficulties? If classroom time is spent preparing students for required standardized tests, must some areas of the curriculum be minimized?
Decisions by nature involve judgment that is grounded in values and attitudes. However, decisions without action are ineffective. A major task of teacher preparation is to enable beginning teachers to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that allow them to make well-informed decisions and to act on their convictions. This is a great privilege and ongoing challenge within the Christian college context where the development of biblical worldview and professional decision making are interwoven. Teachers who take professional action based on their biblical worldview are able to do so with deep and well-founded commitments. For example:
- When teachers respect and value every child because they understand that a loving God created each individual, it enables them to advocate for the children in a highly committed fashion.
- When teachers value justice ecause it reflects the character of God described in Scripture and modeled by Christ, they are able to engage in teaching actions that reflect a deep sense of justice and a commitment to serve the underserved.
- When teachers understand and experience grace as taught in Scripture, they are able to extend that grace to those who hold differing viewpoints,values and attitudes and focus on extending the love of a redemptive God to those around them.
Christian Higher Education Adds Level of Preparation
At Northwestern, teacher education goes beyond the standard expectations of preparation programs to bring a deep sense of inspired calling to the task of teaching. I hold great hope for the future of education due to the high quality of new teaching professionals that are entering the field through Christian higher education. They are academically some of the highest performing students on our campuses, deeply committed to their calling, and empowered through their biblical worldview to make a difference for Christ and His Kingdom.
I am highly encouraged as I think of the yellow bus I encountered that morning since I know that in hundreds of classrooms around the world University of Northwestern alumni—who understand a biblical worldview and are committed to professional excellence—are ready to act on their convictions!
Susan E. Johnson, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Education at University of Northwestern. Her specialty areas include elementary mathematics, preparation of elementary mathematics teachers, curriculum and instruction, teacher education assessment and accreditation.