(Legally) Living Your Faith in the Public Classroom

Like any job, teaching has its challenges, but for those truly called to this profession, the joys, surprises and satisfaction make the challenges worthwhile. For the Christian teacher in a public school, the joys are multiplied when the practice of faith in the classroom is understood and applied, legally and appropriately.

Thanks to organizations like Gateways to Better Education (www.gtbe.org), Christian Educators Association International (www.ceai.org), and Alliance Defending Freedom (alliancedefendingfreedom.org/issues/public-education), teachers can competently and confidently know the boundaries. Gateways president Eric Buehrer provides professional development, training, and resources for educators around the country in order to eradicate the fear and misinformation associated with the topics of faith and freedom in public schools.

There is much more freedom than most people realize. Scenarios like the following frequently unfold in my classroom:

Dalene Vickery Parker

Dalene Vickery Parker

Getting Published

“Dr. Parker, will you help me send two more poems to [the magazine] Encounter?”

“I’d be delighted, Kayla. Why don’t we conference during Independent Reading Time?”

Several weeks later, Kayla receives an exciting email from the editor, specifying her next steps to payment and publication. Her work will reach more than 40,000 subscribers. What a way to let her literary and spiritual lights shine!

This process of submitting work to a Christian publication (that pays!) has been repeated countless times for my students. I keep a lookout for poetry, essays, or speech indicating a student’s faith and then offer the opportunity and training for how to submit to a publication. I do the same for secular works. Either way, I find it extremely gratifying to help my students reach this milestone.

Expressing Faith in the Classroom

I sat in the back of the class listening to Jay present his writer’s workshop about spoken-word poetry. As part of the multimedia component, Jay included two YouTube videos. Both got my attention, but for very different reasons. The first one was about senseless violence in the name of greed, but the second was an actual testimony of a young man’s faith in Jesus Christ and how Christ gave him purpose and reason for living. At the end of this moving presentation, Jay’s classmates applauded and gave him positive verbal feedback.

Jay knows he is free to choose and use materials that reflect his faith when completing an assignment. Likewise, he demonstrates respect when his peers choose to share about their lack of faith or cynical outlook on life. My job is to make sure all students understand that it works both ways. The “Free to Speak” pamphlet at www.gtbe.org makes this clear and easy. All I have to do is make it available, which I do at the beginning of each semester.

Recently, during Yearbook Day (non-instructional time), Jay and I had a discussion about the cross he was wearing around his neck. He explained to me the Scripture reference on the back: “Oh, that’s John 15:13: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ I want that verse to remind me why I’m willing to jump out of an airplane for the sake of my country.”

Jay has recently made two important decisions regarding his future: accepting Christ as Savior, and enlisting in the airborne division of the Army. He is free to talk about both of them. Of course, the same is true for students with different or no religious beliefs. They should be able to express their views without negative repercussions. We are to love, teach, and treat them equally.

So, does being a Christian teacher mean leaving your personal faith and beliefs at home or in the car? Certainly not. Karen Seddon of Christian Educators Association International reminds us that we are called to bear evidence — through action and attitude — the fruits of the Spirit, for there are no laws against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and goodness. Although we cannot preach our faith in Christ, we can provide a daily example of the difference it makes. After all, actions and attitudes really do speak louder than any words we say. And of course, we can support our Christian students by allowing them the freedom to express their beliefs orally or in writing. Likewise, we can demonstrate Christlike love to our non-Christian students by accepting them as they are.

Bottom line: They will know we are Christians by our love.

— Dalene Vickery Parker is a National Board-certified English and writing teacher with a passion for inspiring teenagers and encouraging educators. Her book, “Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom” (available at Christian bookstores, beaconhillbooks.com and major online retailers) is a compilation of inspiration, insights, anecdotes, Scripture, survival tips, and legal resources to encourage and equip the Christian teacher.