Opening the classroom to interns: sharing what it means to teach children of God

Note:  Since 2002, for three weeks in May every other year, Mustard Seed School has opened its classrooms to 8-10 interns from Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, GA).

Some years ago, I was a student at Covenant College, studying to become a teacher. In addition to learning to teach content and subject matter, I learned that there was one aspect of teaching that was of the utmost importance: honoring each student as a child of God.

It is one thing to learn this in a classroom. It is quite another to see it put into practice, lived out in school life every day. That’s why the Mustard Seed School-Covenant College internship program is a great fit. Mustard Seed is built on the truth that each student is a child of God. It is in the fabric of school life.

So it is with joy that I welcome a Covenant College intern into my classroom for three weeks every other May.  Of course, it is an opportunity for me to share best practices and classroom management tips. I model how important it is to pay attention to transitions. We discuss how a mix of independent, partner and whole group practice helps students play with new ideas. I can share how to effectively inspire and redirect fifth grade energy.

More than that, I can show how the curriculum and school life is influenced by the belief that each student is a child of God. As my intern observes a STEAM (Science or Social Studies, Technology, Arts, Mathematics) class, she can see how we allow for many different ways to demonstrate knowledge. For some students, a written document is an effective way to learn and show knowledge. For others, a sculpture or a presentation on the computer enables them to learn through an area of strength.

And while everyone has key milestones, often there are many ways to get there. Just as there are also times to work hard at a specific form.  (After all, everyone needs to know how to reduce a fraction.)

When we think about each student as made in the image of God, we think about building a community where they can be successful and safe.  That’s why we dedicate the first six weeks of school to establishing classroom routines.  Learn that the classroom belongs to all of us. Create a class covenant detailing how we will treat each other.  Consider about hopes and dreams for the year.  By the time the interns arrive, we have had nearly a year to practice.  We are able to show how the community-building investment of the first six weeks pays off in the amount of learning we are able to achieve. How we are able to work together successfully.

In classroom life, inevitably we step on each other’s toes.  Annoy each other.  Seeing each child as made in the image of God means that we take each child seriously. We listen to their problems and help them to come up with solutions. Encourage them to speak their hurt. Apologize. And when there is joy and accomplishment, we celebrate together.

Seeing each child as made in the image of God means that we pay attention to the developmental stage of our students. We build an appropriate curriculum. And we understand their needs. I recently sent a note to remind parents that their fifth grade student is growing.  He or she needs more snack and a larger lunch! It is that time of year.

Most of all, we know our students well. We monitor pacing and how each student learns. Honor who they are and the experiences that they have had. Find ways to validate them academically. Celebrate gifts. Help them grow strong where there is weakness.

One intern recently shared that before she came to Mustard Seed, she knew that there was a way to love each student.  But she didn’t know how to do that until she observed MSS teachers at work in the classroom. While she observed how we honor each student, she also realized something about herself. She has come to know in a deeper way that she can use her strengths as an encourager to help her future students embrace learning for their entire lives.

As for me, I gain a great deal from working beside the interns during their practicum. I grow through their fresh perspectives. I pause to consider my own practice. I am sharpened when someone asks me why I made one choice and not another. I remember that teaching is a calling that is not mastered overnight.

We are all still growing; just like the interns. We are all looking for ways to improve our craft.

We are all children of God, and as a child of God we have lots of growing to do. Just like our students.

We are much better equipped to do the work of education when we work in community where we are known and know our students and colleagues. The image of God is not only in our young students. The image of God is in each of us, and it is worth finding, cultivating,  honoring, celebrating.

I am grateful to be a part of the Mustard Seed School community.  I am grateful to work in a community that lives out its core values. And passes them on.

A Covenant College intern works with first grade students.

A Covenant College intern works with first grade students.

Abby Choi

ABBY CHOI, MIDDLE SCHOOL ASSISTANT DIRECTOR

Ms. Choi enjoys making a good plan and helping students do their best work. Prior to taking on the role as the Middle School Assistant Director, she taught fifth grade for many years. She recently received a masters degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, in social-organizational psychology.  Ms. Choi is also the parent of a Mustard Seed student.