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The blog

Lessons from the fireman

posted Thursday 10th July 2014 by Robert Hall

Our language is indeed strange, as the term fireman can mean one who puts out fires, or the exact opposite, one who tends and encourages them.

I am fortunate to have in my house two things which come into their own in winter: an open fireplace and a cellar in which I store wood for the fire. The wood is gathered from various sources, including building materials discarded by my builder son. Even suitable garden prunings find their way into the cellar to be stored for kindling. The cellar acts as a place in which wood is sorted, sawn and split into appropriate sizes for the fireplace.

Some seasons ago I made a serious error. Cutting back an over ambitious rose bush I kept the thicker woody stems for kindling, forgetting that they would be almost impossible to handle without injury. I had to wear thick gloves which, as you will perhaps know, impair dexterity. So I fumbled about trying to avoid the thorns.

Although I have managed to burn most of the hazardous thorny kindling, I am always cautious about handling the thin sticks in the dim light of the cellar, lest I pick up a vicious thorny one.

The analogy is perhaps obvious. In Genesis chapter three we learn how a serious error of judgement led to far-reaching consequences. If only I had thought for a few seconds about the consequences of razor-sharp thorns in my woodpile!
The same is true in the world of work. Some colleagues and some pupils, cause severe pain and distress. We can try and take precautions like wearing very thick and clumsy gloves, but that reduces our potential dexterity. As the work of the fireman is all done by hand, so is the work of the classroom and staffroom. Thick and insensitive skins blunt our effectiveness, so we have to remove the protection and run the risk of pain and hurt if we are to have the best kind of influence in our school or college.

My prayer for ACT members is that in the struggles of the classroom and staffroom they will have the courage to minister sensitively and personally, even amongst troubled and prickly souls, though it means being vulnerable and taking risks. I pray that our God will protect his people from harm and that our heavenly Father will change prickly lives for the better.

Robert Hall

Hospitality - a very Christian value

posted Thursday 19th June 2014 by Gill Robins 

At the recent EurECA conference, Experience and Expertise in Christian Pedagogy, I attended a fascinating workshop on avoiding conflict in our classrooms. It wasn’t quite the standard reflection on conflict resolution that I expected – it was much, much more. It looked at some of the causes of conflict and how, as Christian teachers, we can address them. Lazlo Demeter, a Hungarian presenter who works as a trainer with ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) Europe, suggested a range of reasons why conflict arise, many of them either to do with factors external to our classrooms, or due to unresolved baggage that pupils bring with them when they walk through the door.

One word in particular grabbed my attention and got me thinking, because in contemporary use it implies an industry, which provides a service at a cost. It was the word ‘hospitality’. What does the word mean to you? The dictionary has two definitions: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, and relating to or denoting the business of entertaining clients, conference delegates or other official visitors. Christian teachers, Lazlo suggested, should exercise hospitality in their classrooms. Well, he clearly didn’t mean ‘entertain’ which is the thrust of the dictionary definitions and which rather skates over the full meaning of the concept. So what does the Bible say?

Answer: a great deal. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’ (Hebrews 13:2), ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9), ‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:34) and ‘hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined’ (Titus 1:8, all quotations ESV). Clearly, God wants us to be hospitable not in the sense of entertaining, but in a much deeper sense, and it’s not an optional extra. It is fundamental to our work for God.

So, we are to welcome people, even strangers from other lands. We are to love them as we love ourselves, in other words, to consider their needs not at the expense of our own, but as equal with them. We should seek to care for others just as willingly as we care for ourselves. Hospitality is about perceiving the needs of others and doing our best to meet them and it’s also about service (1 Timothy 5:10).

So what does this mean in practice, in our schools, every day? The practice of Christian hospitality is about inclusivity. We look for God’s gift in each pupil, we treat each one with dignity and we teach each pupil according to their need. We also provide an environment where individual needs to belong are met and in doing so, we model to our pupils how to practice hospitality towards each other. If we are leaders, we have a role in helping our staff to accept responsibility for practising such hospitality to everyone in the school, not just those who conform to particular norms.

A hospitable classroom is one in which the fruit of the Spirit grows in abundance. And it’s not just any hospitality – this is Christian hospitality, because we are ‘Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man’ (Ephesians 6:7 ESV). This is what makes us distinctive as Christian teachers, regardless of the context in which we work.

Gill Robins

The path of the pedagogue

posted Friday 6th June 2014 by Gill Robins
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul wrote that ‘the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ’ (Galatians 3:24).  In fact, he personified the law by describing is as our pedagogue which leads us to Christ, and it is picture language which Paul’s contemporary readers would have well understood.
Our modern word ‘pedagogy’ is defined as ‘the art and science of education’. But this isn’t where the word started its life. In Greek, it derived from paido, the word for boy, and agogos, the word for leader, so a pedagogue was someone who led a child. This is the sense in which Paul uses the word.
In the Roman culture, the role of pedagogue was assigned to a slave. His job was to take complete responsibility for the child from the age of seven, teaching him to read and laying foundations for later learning. From the age of seven, academic learning was managed by the grammaticus, but the pedagogue remained with the child until the age of 16, leading his master’s child to school, supervising, disciplining  and training. He carried a ferula, or master’s rod, as a sign of his authority and he was there, 24/7, to protect and care. Think of it as a form of personalised learning.
What are the implications of this for us as teachers? The key is contained in the phrase ‘leading his master’s child’. Today we are both pedagogue and 
grammaticus, and for 30 pupils at a time, not just one. But we still, as Christians, are charged with leading our master’s children. Each student whom we teach is made in the image of God and we are entrusted, just for a short time, as each student’s pedagogue. 
The pedagogue must have been a much trusted slave, to be given the care of his master’s child. At the end of the 16 years, the pedagogue was charged with returning to his master an upright citizen who was a credit to Rome and a reflection not of the pedagogue’s values, but those of his master. And it is the same for us as Christian teachers. We, too, are charged with reflecting God’s values in our teaching, in the hope of returning students to our Father who honour God and who are citizens not just of our country, but also of his kingdom.
In what ways are we reflecting our master’s values through our teaching?
Gill Robins


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