How beliefs impact classroom practice

If I consider who I am, there are a few things that come to mind. Firstly, as a Latter-day Saint I believe I am a child of God, I am also a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am also a husband, a father and a friend. I am also a University lecturer and currently serve as the Bishop of my local faith community. As I reflect further I realise that none of these are bolt on and bolt off identities in the way that I used to love watching Mr Benn in the cartoon of my youth take on different roles each episode. Each role is a part of who I am. This is particularly true of my role as a person striving to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in all my actions.

My faith and religion permeate every aspect of my life. As a parent I strive to follow the patience and love that my Saviour showed. As a friend I try to exemplify the service that Jesus taught and showed. In my recreational time I try and abide by the teachings of the Saviour and the prophets- such that there are many films I will not watch, music I will not listen to and substances I will not use. In this I am striving to live my covenant “to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [I] may be in” (Mosiah 18: 9).

But I am often asked about any conflict between my faith and my job. I reply that there is no conflict, and actually it enhances my practice. My faith was an integral part of my classroom practice.

Let me provide two examples of how my religious beliefs impact on my classroom practice. I will begin by explaining the religious belief and then reflect on what role this has played in developing me as a teacher.

One of the most fundamental of my beliefs is that all humans are children of God, created as spirit brothers and sisters in a pre-mortal world. Here, humanity lived as one family in the presence of God. When I speak of a Heavenly Father that is what I literally mean. He has sent his children to earth in a probationary and learning experience as a prelude to returning to live with him. The description that Moses gives of himself could be given by any of us:

And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? (Moses 1: 13).

As I look at the students whom I teach how does believing they are children of God affect me? It does not mean that I tell them so. I am not suggesting that teachers adopt a confessional approach, rather, the belief that I teach children of God suggests that I treat each child with respect. I believe what Joseph Smith, the first prophet of our time taught, that “God has created [every person] with a mind capable of instruction.” As such it is my responsibility as a teacher to find a way to teach that touches the innate desire to learn in every child. This has become known as “personalised learning” or reflect the imperative that “Every Child Matters”. It means to me that every child is worthwhile and I should do my very best to speak to them as children of God (i.e. not in a mean or coarse way) and try to help each child reach their potential. Space does not allow for me to fully explore how this can be accomplished but for the purpose of this article the main point is each child is treated individually and positively.

The second teaching is based on a quote from one of the Presidents (Prophets) of the Church and echoes the teaching of Jesus to “Come, follow me” (Luke 18: 22):

“I would invite all members of the Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion He displayed. I pray that we might treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness” (Hunter, 1994, p. 14).

If I explore what lies behind this invitation I am led to the experiences of the life of Jesus; whether it is him being moved with compassion to raise the son of the Widow of Nain, when he blessed the little children, or when he bore the pains and humiliation of the cross with grace and love for all people. This teaching builds on the belief that every person is a child of God. As such, I should treat every person or every child in my classroom in the way that Jesus would. He would not turn any away because of the way that they looked (the woman anointing his feet with oil), what they have done in the past (the woman caught in adultery), or how they treated him (he died for all of humanity even those who nailed him to the cross). Am I fulfilling the command to “strengthen [everyone] in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings” (D&C  108:7). I must build up every child whom I teach in every aspect of my dealings with them, I must not lose patience when they stretch it to breaking point, I must offer time and understanding. Every year as I address a new group of trainee teachers I offer my philosophy of teaching which is “To be the kind of teacher I want my children to have” which is only a slightly disguised plagiarism of the Golden Rule. For me, as a Latter-day Saint, I must follow Jesus’ example in every aspect of my life. The command to follow him was not a part time opportunity.

I have painted an overly utopian ideal of my teaching practice. I do not mean to suggest that I always remember that every child is a child of God, rather than a little “so and so” who has just assaulted another pupil. Nor that my patience is not driven to, and beyond, breaking point with various whinges and bad behaviours. I have not even mentioned my personal penchant for sarcastic retorts that seem out of tune with following the Saviour. Rather, I am grateful for the belief I have in repentance that enables to pick myself up and try again.

In ending this blog post I am aware that some people may consider me to have been far too confessional in my approach. It may have painted the picture of a monk at the front of the classroom- this caricature could not be further from reality. If you were to ask my pupils what I have explicitly taught them about my faith during lessons they would struggle to know, but they might do better in listing the qualities that they believe a Latter-day Saint has. Confessionalism is not my intent rather I have wanted to alert teachers to the fact that all of our beliefs (whatever they may be) affect us in the classroom. They affect how we act, behave and view others and the learning process. I have only touched on two aspects of my beliefs, but by focussing on them I have been able to reflect on how I can improve as a teacher. By acknowledging their influence on my teaching practice I can more live a cohesive life where I don’t have to separate aspects of my personality and identity. I am a teacher but I am also a Latter-day Saint. This does not mean that I preach my faith in the classroom, just that I live it as best as I can. Now if only someone would ask me that question again?

Reference List

Hunter, Howard W. (1994) Church News, June11, 1994, p. 14

Smith, J. (1980). History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.7 Volumes (B. H. Roberts, Ed.) Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.

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