Studying ... Education?

Everyone reading this will probably have spent at least ten years in school education. In a famous campaign speech, Tony Blair emphasised “Education, Education, Education” as the main solution to the country’s problems: “a good school for every child” was their “mission”. If you step into a school, a shop or a church there would be a general consensus that education matters, but many different reasons behind it.

When I was a secondary school teacher, there was an assembly that summed up the common message being preached in schools. The assembly came at a time when the year had started to misbehave in various ways and the head of year sought to put a stop to it. His basic message was ‘you have two options in life. Either today you work hard, do what your teachers say, and you will come out of school with good grades, you’ll go to uni and get a good job, get a big house and be happy in life. Or you keep mucking around, you are going to get in trouble, maybe get kicked out of school and your life is going to be rubbish.’ 

The same message can be heard in schools across the country. A good education is seen as the key that unlocks the door of a ‘successful’ and ‘happy’ life. The message comes across that if you don’t perform well in your exams, you have less value and you are going to struggle to be happy in life. A person’s education is the measuring stick by which they have made it in life or not. Education is becoming ultimate.

This message runs deep in society at large. Parents are moving into expensive postcodes to get their kids into the best schools, tutoring is becoming widespread and teachers are being pushed to the limit to achieve the grades expected of their classes.

Education is becoming ultimate, but Christians have
a better story
to live by

This is the story we are increasingly told to live by. But as Christians studying education and heading into the world of schools, we have a better story to live by. But we need to understand how it is better and more attractive in every way, so we can truly be light in the darkness.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossian church seeks to help Christians grasp the reality of their union with Jesus. He wants us to see how this reality should shape and affect our attitudes, behaviours and motives. Towards the end of the letter, he comes to the big summary:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters (Colossians 3:23)

This all-encompassing statement is helpful for thinking through all areas of life, including our approach to education. So as people studying education, teaching lessons and marking books, I want us to ponder two questions that arise from reading the book of Colossians:

  • What is it to teach or study education with all our heart as for the Lord?
  • How does our identity as united with Christ affect our study of education/teaching?

As we do this I hope that we will find a narrative to live by that is far superior to the story being told in many of our schools today. I am going to share three ways that I found helpful as a trainee teacher to live the gospel story and speak of it in the world of education.

Audience of one

Paul wrote that Christians are to “work, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). In a school setting, especially as a trainee teacher, this can be particularly hard. It is easy to work for an outstanding on an observation, respect from your supervisor or pupils thinking you are alright. Remembering this verse and that Jesus is Lord over all (Col 1:15ff) helps us to live and work for Him.

Our friends at Christians in Sport champion the phrase ‘audience of one’ as they play sport. The same is helpful for us as we teach. Why not write this on your hand, diary or computer to help this key truth stay in your mind. We teach, not for the respect of others but in a way that pleases the king of the universe, what a glorious truth!

Value and Identity

In schools today, often a pupil’s value and identity are intertwined with their academic progress. This isn’t just tied to pupils. Often teachers’ chat in the staffroom is of things like pupils’ grades in their class or how well they have mastered discipline. Clearly teachers also find their identity tied up with their ability.

Teachers can find their identity tied up with their ability

As Christians, what a wonderful and freeing truth it is that God’s verdict on us is already in. We are so valued by God that He would come to earth as a man and die to win us back to Him. It is very hard not to be corrupted and changed by those around you. Think about how you reacted the last time a lesson bombed or an assignment didn’t go well. Take time to ask for God’s forgiveness and pray for His help to change you. Remember that your identity in Him is firm (Colossians 3:3).

The world that proclaims Christ

Finally, think through how you go about teaching your subject(s).

If we believe in a universe that declares God’s glory, can we teach in a way that will lead to wonder and amazement?

If we study the horrors mankind has committed in history, how can that lead to our awareness of sin and the need for a saviour?

If we teach art, how can we ponder on why it is that humans express themselves in this way?

Take some time to read articles on the subjects you teach, so you can teach in a way that leads to faith and knowledge of God rather than away from their need of Him. As you do this, be ready to share the hope you have with pupils and fellow teachers around you.

I've share a few thoughts as someone who has taught for a couple of years. But why not ask Christian teachers in your churches how they have tried to teach and study for Jesus over the years? There is a wealth of experience and wisdom out there to be tapped into.

Let me leave you with those two questions we started with:

  • What is it to teach or study education with all our heart as for the Lord?
  • How does our identity as united with Christ affect our study of education/teaching?

Keep coming back to these questions, ponder them, wrestle with them and pray about them. Keep your heart and mind on "the things that are above" (Colossians 3:1-2) as you seek to live and speak for Jesus in teaching.

Further reading

© 2016 Sam Pilgrim

This resource is based on a teaching session from Forum, UCCF's national training conference for CU leaders.