In May I was presented with a very special honor by Bruce Braun, Superintendent of Lutheran Schools for the Michigan District. As part of that honor I had to explain how my teaching promotes spiritual growth and academic excellence? Here is my response:
It’s a typical day in my high school English classroom: Shakespeare, rough drafts, poetry, APDoP and literary analysis. While it may seem like any other high school English classroom, there are significant reasons why what I do on a daily basis is meant to help student become better writers, readers and thinkers, but most importantly help them understand why they are sinners redeemed by Christ’s blood.
The foundation of teaching can never be the literature we teach or the essays we help students read and write. As a Lutheran educator the foundation must always be Christ crucified for our sins. Always.
Oh, make no mistake, I love teaching Shakespeare. I love student groans when I tell them our next class opportunity involves Macbeth. They may whine or wonder aloud that Shakespeare could never relate to a teenager in 2013. What I know and share is that Macbeth’s problems are really no different than their own.
…all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
My goal is to make sure students understand that Macbeth struggles for the same reason we, as lost and condemned creatures, fail: sin. I also know that because I am a Lutheran educator the lesson must continue. Near the conclusion of my Macbeth unit, we compare and contrast Macbeth’s failure with Martin Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment as found in the Large Catechism:
Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurances as to care for no one… They make a deal with the devil, in order that he may give them plenty of money or help them in love affairs, preserve their cattle, restore to them lost possessions and so forth. For all such people place their heart and trust elsewhere than in the true God. They look to Him for nothing good, nor do they seek good from Him. (LC I 5, 12)
It’s a perfect fit. Our classroom discussions help us better understand Macbeth’s flaw. As an educator I want my students to comprehend, infer, analyze and think critically. However, as a Lutheran educator I want my students to better understand the eternal consequences of what it means to place anything in front of the one true God. That’s why teaching Shakespeare and my other curricular units are the perfect opportunity to teach about our Savior’s unconditional love. Student learning does not end with this Shakespearean tragedy. It is merely a springboard so my students understand that we are no different than Macbeth. We have utterly failed. However, Luther's Large Catechism lesson continues as we continue our classroom discussion:
We are to trust in God alone and look to Him and expect from Him nothing but good, as from one who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health, protection, peace, and all necessaries for both temporal and eternal life. He also preserves us from all misfortune. And if any evil befall us, He delivers and rescues us. (LC I 24)
In addition to the day’s academic content focus, this is the knowledge I want all my students to possess, understand and apply to their temporal and eternal lives. As the educational leader I strive to make sure the academic rigor of my students’ learning experiences equip them to think critically and independently. As a Lutheran educator, washed clean in the blood of Christ, I use every unit, every author, every opportunity I can to make sure my students see the earthly and eternal blessings of living a life in the freedom of Christ.
The foundation of my classroom is not Shakespeare, Hemingway or proper subject/verb agreement. They are certainly vital in my students' academic growth. My students experience a demanding curriculum, intellectual challenges and opportunities to demonstrate content learning. The foundation of my classroom is to make sure my students understand the blessings of a life in Christ as revealed in Ephesians 1:7-8: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.”
While learning why Jack and Ralph fail in Lord of the Flies, my students also discuss the eternal impact of original sin and how their salvation is assured because of Christ’s victory on the cross. While the content standards for my AP Language and Composition class require my students to "identify and explain an author’s use of rhetorical strategies in non-fiction texts," we study Dr. Gene Veith’s book, The Spirituality of the Cross to better understand how they are used to reveal the grace that is ours through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Spiritual growth has the preeminence in my classroom as we use literature and writing as springboards to help us better understand who we are as redeemed children of God - forever justified, forever forgiven and forever saved children of the heavenly Father.
McCain, Paul Timothy., W. H. T. Dau, and F. Bente. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions : A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.