I originally wrote this in July 2005 after attending NICS Pre-Field Orientation, a special training for NICS missionaries. This year, for my first time, I will be facilitating discussions at this training event. If you are considering work in international Christian education, I believe reading this will help you understand the type of training that you must undertake and the challenges that you will face.
Attending Pre-Field Orientation (PFO) has increased my awareness of the struggles and issues that teachers face when they work at international Christian schools. By sitting through many long lectures conducted by top notch presenters and by engaging in a few experiential learning activities designed to simulate the transition to another culture, I feel I have been equipped with the basic knowledge required to enter, teach, and conduct ministry in another country. While I have previously attended a rigorous teacher training program at the University of Missouri and have passed the neophyte stage in the teaching profession with a few years of classroom experience, the instruction at PFO has exposed the gaps created by my secular school education experience and filled them with rich, warm lessons grounded in Christ-like love to prepare me for the international teaching environment. Specifically, the complex issues that surround educating third culture kids have been illuminated, the specifics and philosophy behind Christian education has been clarified, and I have even gotten to know my strengths and weaknesses a little better through the use of psychological testing.
In December, 2004, after I spoke to Joe Beeson and committed to teaching at the International Community School in Singapore, all that I can recall are questions and apprehensions churning in my mind. At the forefront of the questions concerned the type of student I would be teaching. Would they be American? Would they be smarter than the students I was currently teaching? Less intelligent? Would the students speak English? Would they behave in class? I moved closer to knowing the answers to these questions by learning a new classification of student- the Third Culture Kid (TCK). While I have personally known several missionary kids, I had no idea they were just a tiny segment of a larger population of transnational, independent, unique and relationship-oriented individuals. The implication of this in the way that I run my classroom is that I will have to be cognizant and aware of the unique needs of these students in order for them to reach their maximum learning potential. For instance, within the mono-cultural context of the American public school system there is usually a shared body of common cultural knowledge amongst the students. This could include anything ranging from what the political parties believe, what applesauce tastes like, or what side of the road to drive on. With TCKs, given the transient nature of their background, the shared cultural heritage will not be present and I may find myself having to explain ideas and concepts that I might have been considered basic to American public school students. Conversely, the TCKs and their parents will bring a wider variety of experiences to the classroom than what might be found in public schools and this can add to the richness of class discussions and curriculum. I also expect to be more oriented toward creating warmer, friendlier professional relationships with my students. In the United States students often view their teachers with either apathy or hostility, but by teaching at an international Christian school I see the potential to help students grow both spiritually and academically.
Along those lines, it has been extremely helpful to participate in classes and activities that help clarify the goals and explain the value of Christian education. Most significantly, I have learned that there is “no neutrality” in education. By the teacher’s choice of instructional materials, method of presentation, and relationship with students he or she is inevitably going to communicate values, morals, and a worldview to the students. When it comes to the Christian faith, I believe the teacher will communicate it by both the overt spiritual material in the curriculum and his or her lifestyle example. One lesson taught to us was that teachers at Christian schools have the option, but not the requirement, to include faith in every facet of the curriculum. The PFO classes emphasized it is important to be culturally sensitive, biblically sound, and educationally appropriate. One example that really stuck out in my mind was that of including spiritual questions on assessment. For instance, when creating essay questions you might ask students how they would respond to a work of literature from their own personal spiritual perspective or the teacher might word an open-ended constructed response question by saying something such as, “Given what you know about Jesus, how would he respond to this…?” It was also emphasized to us that as foreigners in foreign countries we would stick out and our behavior would be constantly on view. In order for any teacher to function in a spiritual capacity is it necessary to have a strong, consistent relationship with Christ. Daniel Egeler, director of international school services for the Association of Christian Schools International, refers to this as “passive mentoring” and claims it is the first step to being able to develop closer, Christ-centered discipling relationships with students (89).
One of the most interesting things I have been able to do at PFO was view the results of psychological tests. I feel these tests have provided a useful, analytic view of my personality. Notably, I learned that I posses a “blended” communication style that is versatile and able to reach most people. Unfortunately, the tests have found, and I agree, that I am occasionally inhibited when expressing my viewpoints in some social settings and that is possible for me to fall into skepticism in some scenarios. Another test found that I tended to be a slightly introverted, but yet intuitive, thinking, and perceptive person who functions best when able to work on single tasks without distractions. Being placed on the field with people that I don’t know, I understand I will need to communicate these personality traits to others when I am working in a team setting and it is my responsibility to stretch out of my comfort zone and overcome some of the weaknesses when they have the potential to negatively affect my job performance or ministry.
Robert Bruinsma, professor at King’s University College, says that it is the duty of Christian Language Arts instructors to help “their students to love God and neighbor linguistically (19).” I firmly believe that the experiences and lessons that I have learned at PFO will play a fundamental part in helping me achieve that objective when I begin my ministry in Singapore.
Bruinsma, Robert. The Joy of Language. Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design. 2003.
Egeler, Daniel. Mentoring Millennials: Shaping the Next Generation. Colorado Springs: Navpress. 2003.
Please note, Mentoring Millennials by Daniel Egeler can by purchased through my Amazon affiliates program.