Committed Adventist teachers who are passionate about God and His children are Adventist education’s most valued asset—treasures of inestimable worth. How do I know? Because when I was attending primary school and high school, there were no Adventist schools near my home. I went to government schools where I learned how to read and write and get good grades, but where I felt isolated because I could never attend the school’s weekend events on Friday nights or Saturdays. My school world did not connect with my beliefs and values at home and church. I felt as though I didn’t belong, and each week I subconsciously negotiated a life lived between opposing goals and life directions.
From my first year of primary schooling, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I’d heard of Avondale University College, our Seventh-day Adventist tertiary institution in Australia, and I wanted to go there. At the end of high school, my five summers of work provided the cash portion for my first semester fees. It looked as if my college education might take 20 years!
My parents couldn’t help me financially. Their contribution to my Christian education: sheets, blankets, a set of the Conflict of the Ages books and a battered tin trunk to carry my belongings on the train to Avondale.
However, my first taste of Adventist education was captivating—and it was because of the teachers! My teachers prayed before they started their classes, and frequently mentioned God in English, history and science classes. This was very new to me. My first Sabbath, I was surprised to see my respected history teacher serving as a deacon in the college church—welcoming me to the service and passing the offering bag to my row of seats. I’d never imagined this kind of thing could happen in a school. But there was more. . . . Sunday morning brought the voluntary “Operation Blueprint” program, where faculty and students worked side by side on the campus, dressed in our “garden clothes”, sharing stories and getting our hands dirty. It was my history teacher turned deacon and now gardener who taught me how to transplant cabbage seedlings into the freshly cultivated soil.
Ellen White captured the significance of this type of activity and its long-term impact:
“The attention required in transplanting—so that not even a root or fibre is crowded or misplaced—the care of the young plants, pruning and watering, weeding and controlling pests, not only teach important lessons concerning the development of character, but the work itself is a means of development. Cultivating carefulness, patience, attention to detail and obedience to law imparts a most essential training. The constant contact with the mystery of life and the loveliness of nature . . . tends to quicken the mind and refine and elevate the character. The lessons taught prepare the worker to deal more successfully with other minds.”1
This teacher-in-training was discovering a rich education apart from books and lectures and assignments, for which I will be forever grateful.
Have you thought about the range of skills that the ideal teacher-training program provides for its students? Some of these include the following: organisation, communication, management, spiritual leadership, measurement, assessment and evaluation, problem-solving, administration, strategic thinking and planning, decision-making, negotiation, counselling and people skills. Above all, these programs cultivate in future teachers a sensitivity to individual differences in student capabilities and skills, interests and needs.
Finding ways to mentor and nurture teachers in their first years of teaching, to affirm and validate mature teachers while providing ongoing professional development opportunities, is crucial for every Adventist educational institution and for every level of our education system. If we don’t achieve these goals, there are countless organisations and institutions just waiting for our well-equipped, work-ready teaching graduates to pursue other careers, and our system will be poorer for it. Seeing Adventist-trained teachers recruited for other careers in Papua New Guinea in the past 20 years makes me wonder if we should double our teacher-trainee intake, so that we can employ half the teaching graduates in our schools while the others become the salt and light for positions in the Church, government, businesses and NGOs—contributing to the country’s overall growth and development, and openness to gospel initiatives.
Adventist teachers trained in programs that place wholistic emphasis on the spiritual, mental, social and physical aspects of schooling will impact the lives of those in their spheres of influence for eternity. This is what makes our education system unique. Teachers committed to God have enormous opportunities for modelling what God is like to students and their families.
Our vision is to have committed Adventist teachers nurturing student disciplers in quality Adventist schools. Spiritually, teachers will be connected with God every day; mentally, they will see themselves as lifelong learners seeking professional growth and development; and socially, they will be relationship enhancers, modelling good interpersonal skills as they interact with their families, students and fellow staff. Physically, “the better the health the better will be the work accomplished.”2 Ellen White acknowledged that “so wearing are teachers’ responsibilities that special effort . . . is required to preserve vigour and freshness.”3 When teachers demonstrate a positive commitment to all four areas of life, their students observe a valuable model for life.
A well-known quotation often attributed to William Butler Yeats says: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”4
I believe Spirit-filled teachers are the ones who light that fire with eternal results. When we look back on our own education, we remember those teachers for who they were, not just their methods and techniques. Teachers, indeed, are at the centre of real learning—for now and for eternity. Adventist teacher-training programs for beginning and in-service teachers are designed to nurture their commitment as they impact the lives of those they serve and light a fire with eternal rewards.
This article originally appeared as “Teachers: The People Who Make the Difference in Adventist Education”, The Journal of Adventist Education, 81:3 (July-September 2019): 3, 47.
Dr Carol Tasker is director of Research and Post-Graduate studies at Pacific Adventist University, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.