Ministry in the Classroom

Aug 8th, 2019 | Category: Church Work Professional
By Simeon Stumme and Shirley K. Morgenthaler

Centering Teacher Vocation: Physical, Emotional and Intellectual Engagement

We often associate the term vocation with manual labor, or an activity that we enjoy but is different from our paid work. In the Lutheran tradition, the idea of vocation is more encompassing; it is our calling –it is what we do in the world to glorify God and be (flawed) examples of God’s grace. Vocation is deeply human – it is what gives us meaning and purpose. Vocation engages us physically, emotionally and intellectually. It is our calling, a calling from God himself.

Many people find vocation in teaching. Teaching is often framed as work done by caring, patient, selfless people; teachers don’t do it for the pay; teaching is physically exhausting. It is a labor of Love. All these things are true. But this is an incomplete picture of teaching and what teachers do. Teaching is also complex, ethically demanding and intellectually stimulating work. When the intellectually challenging aspect is omitted, teaching can be easily dismissed to be simply a job.

Recently, colleagues at Concordia University Chicago and I (Simeon) had the opportunity to work closely with Lutheran school teachers in Chicago. Our work focused on creating a scope-and-sequence of literacy goals for pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. It was the first-ever such effort to bring several independently-run schools under a common curricular umbrella. The goal of the effort was to create opportunities for teachers and schools to cooperate, share resources, and have a common basis from which to discuss academic excellence in their schools. The effort was not one of standardization, but rather of making explicit the common mission for academic excellence in faith-centered education.

Our approach to the work took the teachers’ vocation seriously.  The process we engaged in privileged the experiences and voices of teachers. Our starting assumption was that teachers are experts in their field, and, when given the time and resources necessary, they can create meaningful and robust collaboratively-articulated plans of study for Lutheran schools. The group of teachers gathered for this project were the intellectual foundation of the final product.  Teachers were intellectually (and emotionally and physically) committed in our work together. The fullness of their dedication is evident in the final articulation of learning goals, activities and assessments they created.

The Lutheran definition of vocation is expansive and inclusive. It recognizes the connection between what we do and our humanness: we are physical, emotional and intellectual beings. Our recent work with Lutheran school teachers reminded me of the benefits of embracing the full potential of teachers’ vocation.

Teaching is God at work in and through us. His calling creates our vocation. Our vocation creates a Lutheran classroom that is welcoming, safe, intellectually stimulating, and rigorous. That vocation, knit together with the vocations of colleagues in one place, creates a Lutheran school. A Lutheran school that makes a difference in the community where it serves. A Lutheran school that speaks the love of Jesus Christ through all of its being. Ministry in the classroom. Ministry in the school. Ministry in the congregation. Ministry in the community. LEJ