by Tom Garfield
The covenant people of God were told three times in the Old Testament: “Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 34:26, Exodus 23:19, Deut. 14:21) Each time God commanded (that is, prohibited) this in the context of eating laws and tithing. Put another way, this is a command within the context of daily work or rituals, as well as dealing with our giving to God and His servants.
It’s also a command unlike most other eating commands – it’s a prohibition on how to cook, not necessarily what to eat (or not). In the New Testament Christ declared all foods clean. So, does this lift the restriction on how we cook as well? Can we now boil kids (baby goats) in their moms’ milk using our New Testament freedoms and Christian liberty? Perhaps, but let’s not miss the principle behind the prohibition. Let’s all assume that God didn’t have a change of heart or personality between the Old and New Testaments (James 1:17) . Let’s seek maturity in how we view the former food restrictions and other guiding principles for living as God’s people. In much the same way we see so much foreshadowing of the coming Christ and His Kingdom in the prophets, the Psalms, the Tabernacle, and how God dealt with His chosen nation at that time, we should understand as Christian adults that the vast majority of Old Testament commands were about deeper and more important principles than particular dietary preferences. Sort of “magic from BEFORE the dawn of time.”
So let’s see if we can articulate and then apply the principle behind the prohibition. How about this? We are not to take what is precious and meant for nourishment of offspring to use as a means of death, or even just contempt by mindless use in daily routines (i.e. making lunch or dinner every day). If something as common as leaven in bread can be and is used by the Lord God, both in the Old and New Testament, as an illustration of His entire Kingdom, then we should sit up and take notice when, in the context of having a meal, He tells us not to disdain the nourishing aspect of a mother’s milk, even when the mother is a goat!
We as classical, Christian educators would, I trust, answer the question, “Do you consider a classical Christian education nourishing and precious to children?” with a profound and emphatic YES!
We believe, along with Dorothy Sayers, that there really was something to the value of the Trivium for nourishing and training these young ones in generations past. I won’t take the time here to review the Trivium elements in depth. Suffice it to say, it is absolutely critical that those of us who have some influence over our school’s curricular decisions, should have an extremely clear vision of what is and is not necessary to implementing those elements in our program. That is, we should know from experience why and how it works.
We can know it works because we see the delightful correspondence it has with the way our children grow, display curiosity and wonder, seek to imitate, ask questions about what is good and what is bad; how to argue, probe, define, and ultimately, in a winsome way, articulate and defend what is good, true and beautiful. All as a result of nourishing, tasty classical “milk” served up with biblical wisdom and love.
One of the best informal litmus tests we should have as administrators, board members, and teachers in our schools is that, after some years, we can step back, take a hard look at the entire school, with all its unique aspects and we say, “Golly, I wish I could have gone to a school like this!” I say this is a litmus test because the difference between what we all received and what these students are getting should be as obvious as the difference between red and blue, or acid and alkaline bases. We should be seeing these students not just survive or endure our schooling, but actually and seriously thrive in it!
Another significant test of the value or nourishment content of our classical “milk” should be, do our alums want to give it to their children? By God’s grace, at Logos we have seen the start of a wave of second generation Logos students, children of alums who apparently valued what they received.
What does “boiling” entail?
Are we (classical, Christian school administrators) really doing this? Well, yes, actually. Otherwise I am wasting your time and mine by making much ado about nothing. But before I attempt to give us all a really solid, deserved whack, I have to say that I believe we actually do understand how valuable this classical milk really is or can be. I know a fair number of CCE administrators and none of them are apathetic about this philosophy. None I’ve met are ambivalent about their programs or what they want to accomplish in the lives of the students. It’s just the opposite; most are demonstratively passionate about classical education. You know this is good stuff we have to dish out. But it’s just at that dishing out point that I want to whup up on us for a bit: A very significant concern I have for ACCS schools is how we treat our teachers, the ones doing the actual dishing out of the classical milk. I have derived both the impetus and the content for this talk from knowing real live teachers – those I’ve worked with for many years at Logos; those I’ve met in 15 years of Logos summer teacher training seminars; those I’ve observed in classical schools seeking accreditation; and those I’ve met during a visit to a good number of sister ACCS schools, maybe yours.
So, how do we ‘boil’ our teachers?
1. Boiling away time: We administrators set calendars, daily schedules, class times, school rules, classroom rules, special programs, etc. We tell our teachers how much and what we want them to teach, we give them texts and primary documents to master for every discipline they teach, as well as our own unique curriculum guides. We expect them to do recess duties, plan for assemblies, Christmas programs, Open House displays and talks, and Grandparents’ Days, not to mention making out (student-specific, of course) comments and report cards. We want them to carefully follow the Seven Laws of teaching, become proficient in classical methodologies, and, oh yes, be a living example of Christ-likeness. All while maintaining great control of their classrooms. Oh, and can they coach a team and/or direct a play, too? Great! Now, why should they be a bit upset at our calling a fourth staff meeting this week? We administrators have very vital knowledge to impart, obviously, and this meeting is critical for the communication of that knowledge… Or why do we always get those looks when we make a last-minute change to our schedule? We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t really necessary, would we? Hit the Pause button. Do we have a really accurate idea of how much time our teachers put in each week, or weekend? Do we have a good grasp on what a change of schedule does to them or our additional training assignment or fourth staff meeting this week? Do we even have a clue about their personal lives and the challenges in time they face there?
2. Boiling away energies: It takes a lot of physical energy to teach any length of time; obviously a full day of teaching drains more energy than a couple of classes per day. But to do it right, any and all teaching is draining. One of the worst things, therefore, we can do to our teachers is to give them the idea that their work has been in vain. How do we do that? By any seeming change in our program priorities, plans, or emphases absent their input and consideration. Obviously we want to always be improving our schools, but these changes make take longer than some of our impatient personalities may like. (Being a Navy man, the old, ‘trying to turn an aircraft carrier on a dime’ really sticks with me.)The teachers, who do the actual work of the school’s vision, need to be brought along gently and wisely. That means our not making sharp turns without time for teacher input. And I don’t mean the perfunctory kind – you know, where you make it clear what the “right” answers to your questions are, say during one of those many staff meetings. You want them to be as excited and even energized by good changes as you are. Just the fact that you are considering the efforts the teachers undertake daily can be reassuring to them.
A sort-of tangent here: I strongly believe that all administrators should teach a class and/or coach a team very regularly. Even one class, perhaps at the rhetoric level, will give you amazing insights into the tasks your teachers live with every day (not to mention let you get to know the kids better). In other words, you actually do what you require, even on a small scale. The teachers may even treat you differently knowing you are in the trenches with them, if just for an hour a day.
3. Boiling away enthusiasm: Obviously these all tie together: time, energy and enthusiasm. But when your teachers are over-burdened, tired, and lacking long-term motivation, your school will suffer, to put it mildly. How do we boil away our teachers’ enthusiasm, that is, being excited and secure in their purposes? A couple ways come to mind: lack of protection and a lack of respect.
a. Protection: Do we adequately protect them from chronic student problems? Of course we expect the teachers to address and even nip the majority of student problems in their classes, but do we do enough observing to even know what’s really happening? Have you had teachers who didn’t even realize how bad things had gotten in their room? Sometimes novices don’t even realize what problems they’ve got, they just go home each day discouraged. Or how about protecting the teachers from parents? Even the guy teachers (but probably not as often). Oh yes, classical, Christian education is rife with potential for parental upset-ness and misunderstanding. You as an administrator are like the restaurant manager: who gets the most complaints, you or the waitress or waiter? Your teachers are adults, yes, but they need to know that you will back them up or even directly take on parental concerns that have elevated to complaints.
b. Respect: This is particularly needed for your male teachers, although the ladies can feel its absence, too. Sure it’s hard, believe me I know, to show respect to a guy who doesn’t seem to get the message that it’s not ok to have PE girls running back to school on snow-covered sidewalks, alone, without any adult supervision. (He was already back in the warm gym.) Unlike what the world says, the Bible says to give respect even, and maybe especially, if it’s not earned. Salute the uniform, so to speak. But we have lots of small ways of making teachers feel small – the way we word memos, the tone in a staff meeting, in front of their peers, the way we speak to them with students or parents present.
Related to this is how we recognize, or not, our teachers’ accomplishments. Do we even give them a note of thanks after a particularly difficult program, or season, or presentation? Do we have ways of acknowledging their years of service to the school?
4. Boiling away effectiveness – This all can add up to a lack of attention to real problems among your staff. Let me be even plainer – all the above could be happening every day in our schools and we might still be under the impression that we have a strong, healthy program. None of this is about a teacher going postal, as the saying used to be. Your teachers might surprise you by giving a hearty Amen! to much of what’s been written here. As far as you might see, the honor rolls are still pretty full and you had three National Merit winners last year. Right. And everything above the waterline looked real classy on the Titanic, too, for a while. Your teachers teach because they love seeing students grow and learn; that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t get discouraged or over-taxed by your (no doubt) unintentional boiling of them. Sooner or later, this low-grade fever of unhappiness will affect their job performance. Maybe they’ll leave before that happens; is that the best option we should hope for?
By ignoring or just being ignorant of what we may be doing to our teachers, we also disconnect what should be a two-way communication. We absolutely need to hear from our teachers, on a very regular and frequent basis. Not just during evaluation times, although those are indispensable. Just as we found when we were young parents, the best times of training our children were the countless dinner table conversations, not primarily the spanking or punishment occasions. Put another way, you probably can’t talk with your teachers too much. Their effectiveness, which spells success or not for your school, depends a great deal on the solid connection between you, as the voice of the vision and the teachers, those that put feet on the vision.
Revive the benefit of CCE to teachers
Remembering teachers’ frames: It’s simple: treat them as you want them to treat the students.
This seems pretty obvious doesn’t it? Well, so do each of the Seven Laws of Teaching but many teachers miss them, too. You expect the teachers to understand and work with, not against, the frames of their students. The classical methodology uniquely promotes this very idea. “Cutting with the grain.” Have you taken the time to understand the frames of your teachers? Do you know the conditions that would best cut with their grain? Do you know them well enough that you could describe their unique characteristics to their parents if you had to? Have you noticed the unique teaching qualities that distinguish your male teachers from the ladies? I really believe I have earned a doctoral degree in this area, but no university would accept my thesis. You want your students to love learning, right? Do your teachers love learning? If not, why not? You want the students to grow in their love for the knowledge they are gaining, right? Are your teachers growing in love and depth of the knowledge they impart?
Nourishment for teachers: Speaking of growing in knowledge, one of the best ways my principal, Matt Whitling, has cooked up to help his teachers in this regard is their individual scholarship projects. Now this may sound like adding another brick to their already huge stack. Yes, it’s work, but it’s work that: a) Fits into their own schedules, b) Is chosen by them, c) Allows them to pursue deeper knowledge in an area they feel weak in, d) Is assigned well in advance of completion date. Especially for our veteran teachers, those who have become proficient in classical methods as well as the seven laws, this kind of training is much preferred to yet another series of in-house training exercises. Usually assigned in the fall, the teachers present the results of their projects in front of their peers in mid-spring. With just a few guiding objectives from the principal, the teachers have come up with amazing and worthwhile projects! And all done without a single complaint or major stress factor (I know this not only from personal experience, but from being married to another teacher).
How else can we nourish our teachers? How about several personal days off, no questions asked? Many sister schools, along with Logos, grant three personal days each year (non-accumulating). This recognizes and even encourages their need to just get some home projects done, go shopping in the big city, visit the grandkids, whatever. Or how about adjusting the school calendar to allow them real time, a workday minus students, to work on grades at the end of a quarter? Or a four-day work week during long stretches between holidays? Or a special pizza lunch once in a while (we sell accumulated Lost and Found items and use the money for staff lunches). Even just limiting your staff meetings to once a week, with time for prayer and singing – just a thought. If you run out of ideas, try asking the teachers – in a healthy Christian environment they won’t ask for the moon.
Channeling enthusiasm: What can an excited, protected, respected, and nourished teacher accomplish? Given the right direction, that teacher can accomplish a very great deal! But to be clear, unguided excitement, especially in a young novice teacher is like mercury on a table top – it’s bright, shiny and slides all over the place. On the other hand, a veteran, dull teacher is like a dry creek bed; you know its direction, but who cares? It’s all cracked dirt, dust and totally uninspiring. Again, in the same way we want our seniors in high school to still be ‘into’ school as much, but differently, than kindergartners, we should not think that teacher burn-out is acceptable or the norm in our schools. Like your school, many of our long-term teachers literally carved out the programs and classes they teach. For the guys particularly, this was one of the strong appeals of Logos; they were stake-holders and pioneers. The logic course was planned on paper but it took a Jim Nance to really flesh it out and eventually write the book. We had a number of science teachers come and go, but it took a Wes Struble to come in, invest his mind, heart and years to make our science offerings what they are today. Whether at the grammar, dialectic or rhetoric levels, no two academic years at your school should be the same. Teachers, given the practical encouragement from us, want to improve their teaching and curriculum from year to year. How can we make that naturally and regularly happen? Because they find that it’s exciting and fulfilling to know they are doing a better job this year than last year, and not only that, the program is better because they had the opportunity and liberty to fix some things and improve lessons! They love to know the students will benefit from their labors!
Accountability and practicality: This last point may not sound like tasty “nourishment” of teachers, but it’s absolutely necessary and I would be remiss in not mentioning it. You see, without the proper application of accountability, you are depriving your teachers every bit as much as not paying them their due wages. Simply put, they need to hear from you, in an orderly, planned out, and non-threatening manner regarding the quality of their work. Another word for all this is evaluations. You’d probably be shocked, as I have been, to hear the stories from Christian school teachers not having a clue about how well they’re doing since their administrator never evaluates them. Sure, evals are often viewed with the kind of joy and anticipation we have for going to the dentist, but believe it or not, done well, teachers actually enjoy this kind of pain! They know, because it’s been made abundantly clear in countless other ways, that their administrator really does care and wants to help them improve as a teacher. That is the point of the eval, after all. It’s not about punishment any more than a report card is meant to be punishment to a student (depending of course on his grades and his parents’ view of them. But that’s not the point).
Intrinsic to the observations and evaluation process are the ways we communicate our view of how the teacher is doing and what recommendations we have for improvement. Vague, rather squishy phrases are not much good to anyone – “The teacher seems to have satisfactorily met all the mandatory and minimum curriculum objectives as approved by the school board according to policy blah point blah blah, sub section yawn.” Be specific in your praise as well as your criticism, if needed. All this is in writing, of course. As are the specific objectives you will be looking to be met for next time. That way, progress can be observed and measured by both you and the teacher. Here again, the simple equation is do unto the teachers as you would have them do unto the students.
Nourished teachers foster nourished students: (Or no “kids” boiled either!) All this good nourishment, not boiling, leads to joyful, contented and improving teachers, working in harmony with you, the administrator. Gosh, do you think this might have a healthy affect on their students? In much the same way a well-loved wife knows how and why to treat her children lovingly – she is giving out what she is receiving.
Classical milk, with all its nourishing, vitamin A content and methods, is not for boiling either young ones or their teachers in. Make sure everyone in your school delights in the refreshing taste and benefit!