Thirty-nine years ago I entered the fourthgrade at a small Seventh-day Adventist school. It was late September, several weeks after the official start of the school year.
My parents had just moved our family from Georgetown, Guyana, to a quiet, rural town in the midwest United States—from the equator to what felt like the Arctic.
Being a shy child, I did not readily adapt to the new school setting. My teachers were kind and I kept up with my work; but as one would imagine, I experienced culture shock in this my first Adventist school. As each day passed, I knew I could count on one person: Mr. G. Although not my homeroom teacher, Mr. G somehow knew my name and would merrily greet me whenever our paths crossed with a hearty “And how is Faith-Ann this morning?”
This simple act made me feel welcome when navigating the transition to a new culture seemed overwhelming, and I was certain I would never adjust.
I soon learned that Mr. G’s whole heart was intertwined with his students—from the quiet ones to those who had much to say. In Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, Ellen White notes that Christ in His ministry always remembered the children: “His large heart of love could comprehend their trials and necessities.”1 And in True Education, “[Teachers]. . . should possess not only strength but breadth of mind; they should be not only whole-souled but large-hearted.”2 Mr. G made it his mission to be “large-hearted” and “whole-souled” with his time, interest, and resources.
As part of what is now known as the Pathfinder Investiture Achievement program, I would later volunteer in Mr. G’s classroom—emptying trash cans, vacuuming, cleaning the chalkboards and erasers, and grading spelling and math quizzes. During the eight years that I either volunteered or worked as a reader in his classroom, he often “volunteered” me for activities I would not have pursued on my own, such as working in the school’s main office during the summer, answering the telephone, assisting with registration, and tutoring. His favorite cheer was: “I know you can do it!”
It is more than prestige and status in a given community or enjoying the perks of the profession.
When asked what I would study in college, I presented several choices, to which he chuckled and said, “I think you’re going to be a teacher.”
I, of course, disagreed.
My family relocated to Trinidad, and in subsequent years I found myself gravitating toward teacher-like activities: tutoring, teaching Sabbath School, and assisting teachers with grading papers. Before I knew it, I was passionately pursuing teaching as my profession. I felt “at home” in the classroom and could hardly wait to have my own.
As I began my journey toward becoming a teacher, I learned that teaching comprised more than just the delivery of content. Parker Palmer, in his classic book The Courage to Teach,writes: “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.”3
While an undergraduate student at an Adventist college in the Caribbean, I had the privilege of seeing this modeled by many committed professors. One memorable experience took place during the semester I enrolled in World Civilization I. I experienced the powerful impact of the teacher’s faith on students’ faith journey.
This was a dreaded course. The reading load, legendary. Professor L encouraged the class and gave suggestions for navigating the seemingly massive reading assignments; nevertheless, I was stressed out and on a path to certain failure.
Professor L began each class period by reading portions of the Gospel of John. He would engage the class in discussion about the passage shared, then he would pray for each of us. These were not hastily constructed prayers, but earnest prayers for our success and future endeavors. We were encouraged to form study teams and distribute the reading load. Some of us took the suggestion. The study team I was in decided to use John 14 as our focus, copying what we saw modeled each class period.
That semester, that course, is seared into my memory because I personally experienced the integration of faith with learning and found a path to a friendship with Jesus Christ—a friend interested in every aspect of not just the world and civilization, but of my daily concerns. While discussing world civilization, we also wrestled with God’s plan for humanity, and that led to thoughts about God’s plans for each of us individually. The Bible and prayer became more than a collection of words or eloquent utterances.
We prayed more for each other during those study sessions than we did to pass the course: we prayed about our families (some were far away from home with little to no support), our finances, and future hopes and aspirations. For my remaining undergraduate years, through graduate and postgraduate education, and even in my professional life, principles applied during that semester—personal and intercessory prayer, Bible reading and claiming God’s promises, and sharing the workload—have helped strengthen my faith walk and personal friendship with Jesus.
And so I became a teacher! One Sabbath while attending services at Pioneer Memorial church on the campus of Andrews University, I spotted a familiar profile. It was Mr. G! I had the privilege of “surprising” him with the news that I had indeed become a teacher. He laughed and said with confidence: “I knew it!”
Teaching is a sacred act. For the Seventh-day Adventist teacher, it is not just about completing lesson plans, grading student work, or supervising students in various activities; it is more than prestige and status in a given community or enjoying the perks of the profession. Instead, it is living simultaneously in the present and the future.4 Teachers “consider the highest good of their students as individuals, the duties that life will lay on them, the service it requires, and the preparation demanded.”5 Teachers’ work and calling involves guarding the condition of their own soul, for this has a marked impact on the lives of those within their care.
In Educating for Eternity George Knight reminds us that “the primary aim of Christian education in the school, the home, and the church is to lead people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.”6 This is not a humanly directed task; it requires partnership with the divine—God, through the Holy Spirit. To partner with the divine is a “noble work”7—one of building character, both teacher and student; and it is work that “cannot be completed in this life, but will be continued in the life to come.”8
And yet, this is what Adventist, Christian educators are called to do every day! Individually and collectively, we engage in thinking about how best to prepare our students to live in this world, while anticipating a future world. The task may seem difficult and overwhelming; but we have help. We have a cheerleader who says, “You can do it!” In Jeremiah God says, “Call to me, and I will answer you” (Jer. 33:3); and we’re reminded: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all” (James 1:5).
Each school year, regardless of what grade level I teach, I see students who remind me of myself: looking to belong, seeking faith, or navigating a path to service. Many, like me, find their way because of countless committed, dedicated Adventist educators like Mr. G and Professor L—educators who inspire hope, model large-hearted service, and see their students as God sees each of us: as characters fit for the kingdom.9
With whole-souled, large-hearted devotion, we can each continue to grow in Him “more fully to reflect . . . the light of the knowledge of His glory”10 through all eternity.
Faith-Ann McGarrell is editor ofThe Journal of Adventist Education.