By Somy Madeoy
After graduating from The Master’s University, various alumni are now public-school teachers. Three of them are Micayla Zide, a 7th-grade science teacher, Susana Nestor, current 3rd-grade teacher, Esther Kuiper, a 5th-grade teacher and Kate Zegan, who taught biology, earth science, anatomy and SDAI (kids with English as their second language) for 5 years with highschoolers. Each of them teach locally in Santa Clarita.
Nestor has just had her official first year as a 3rd-grade teacher, but first taught 5th grade as a substitute with a class size of about thirty students. She now has 25 3rd-graders and teaches math, science, English/reading, P.E, social studies and ELD (English language development) and art.
Esther Kuiper is multi-subject, so she teaches all the subjects that her school offers. After completing her student teaching last year for a few months through different districts, this is her first official year of teaching after graduating from TMU in 2020.
Being in the public school system requires an immense amount of patience, but it also entails specific challenges and is a big responsibility. Because of this, teachers must learn how to find the balance between being Christians who exemplify Christ in a situation that often doesn’t leave room for a blunt biblical worldview. They must also find practical ways to problem solve when faced with challenges.
“Since I grew up in a godly and stable home, I wrongfully assumed that this was the case for everyone. I quickly learned that so many of my students are going through deep struggles in their family or personal lives, and school is often an afterthought to them. Sometimes, they’re just trying to survive the day, and the science lesson, regardless of how fun and interactive it may be, is just not a top priority,” Zide said.
Along with struggles the students face, behavior is a common hardship to overcome. Nestor and Kuiper have both been challenged with this in the classroom. Nestor explains this behavior as one of the hardest parts of her public school teaching, especially after COVID-19.
“There is just a lot of anger in the students … before Covid I wouldn’t have said that behavior would be the hardest part but now it is,” she said.
Covid, on the other hand, opened more jobs for the graduating class of students for teaching at TMU according to Kuiper, but in terms of a social/emotional curriculum that these graduates are faced with, she says that sharing the gospel is even harder since although tools and skills for kids to learn about behavior are objective, the actual answer is Christ, and that viewpoint is not a part of the standard public-school curriculum. So, how is Christ emulated by these women despite this?
Although Nestor, Kuiper and Zegan specified how hard it is not being able to explicitly voice their biblical worldview in the classroom (each of them teaching a wide variety of subjects), they have each had students personally tell them that they are unlike their other teachers since they don’t get mad or yell in a similar manner. This, and patience provided by the Lord, is what helps them to practically exemplify Jesus to the students.
Kuiper aims to give students more than second chances since she wants to work with them and help them succeed not just in the classroom but in life. Though not every student responds the first time to her methods, many try harder because they know the difference between healthy rewards and risks. This is where the aforementioned patience intertwines with the life of a public school teacher.
“I know that they can tell that I’m not like other teachers, that they see the difference, but they don’t know why. But I’m hoping when years go by and they’re presented with the gospel, they’ll know that it wasn’t inconsistent with my life, that everything they learn about Jesus will be consistent with who I was in front of them,” Kuiper says.
Her hope is that one day this will click when her students learn more about Christianity.
Zegan found that a challenge of being a public-school teacher is the depression in students who often look for help in the wrong places.
“Going into teaching at a public school (after being in public school growing up), there are things my eyes as an adult should have never seen,” she says.
Where fixing their situation is not a possibility, what’s most important is how she responds when given the chance, primarily to exemplify Christ.
Zide also mentions the importance of her attitude in the classroom.
“One of the things I remember hearing very early on in my credential program is you may be the only person who gives a smile to your students each day,” Zide says. This really stuck with me, so I try to be a warm and welcoming teacher, where students know they can come to me with any problem they’re facing.”
Apart from directly sharing the gospel, she uses these tactics, emulating the joy of the Lord to stand out and provide general advice to students, characteristics seen in Jesus Himself, to be a light in the world.
Kuiper furthers this by saying that when being herself around the students and staff, even with a hard year this year, she must not complain. When faced with an issue, she focuses on communication rather than complaining to receive advice from her co-workers, and to uphold a good attitude to be a light to them.
Aside from students and faculty, the subject matter can often clash with their world view.
In regard to science, Nestor, Zide and Nezbitt have a similar approach. They each aim to present the different scientific views of creation and secularism as just another approach or idea. Instead of presenting the big bang as truth, for example, they can tell students the difference between a man-made idea and discuss where it can fall apart.
Kuiper brings these ideas to life in her classroom as well. “I tell the students… if you take this approach, this is where it goes,” she says.
Kuiper continues by saying that framing different opinions in this way allows them to critically think about it later and revise when they have the tools to.
In Zegan’s words, “It’s very bad to talk about religion in a science class, so I had to be really creative… but knowing the truth itself I have to be tactical with how I deliver the truth and the word to my students, so I think Master’s really prepared me for that.”