Friday, November 20, 2020

A Word of Recognition and Encouragement for Teachers

 This is from a social media post by Dr. Nathan Finn, former Professor of Historical Theology and Spiritual Formation at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC and currently Provost and Dean of the Faculty at North Greenville University in Greer, SC.  

The teachers around you are anxious, weary, and exhausted. I’m talking about teachers at every level and in every type of school, whether 3rd grade or high school English or college Chemistry. Public school or private school. Religious school or non-sectarian school. All of them. These men and women almost certainly became teachers because they love students (of whatever age and stage) and want to make an impact in students’ lives through the classroom. They probably love their vocation and find significant satisfaction in being a teacher. But the last nine months has probably been the most difficult period in their career--even if they’ve been teaching for decades.
Teachers have been endlessly flexible in recent months. Many have adapted to various technologies to enable them to teach at least some students remotely, rarely with an ideal level of institutional investment in resources and training to help in this transition. Many have been forced to roll with scheduling or attendance changes, often with little advance warning from decision-markers. Even in cases where teachers have been able to teach mostly in-person, they have often endured quasi-isolation from their colleagues and their students. In many cases teachers have had to help “police” student conformity to protocols about face coverings, social distancing, quarantines, etc. Or, they have been anxious because students have refused to follow such protocols, potentially endangering those around them.
Decision-making has been more “top-down” than is normal in education. (Especially in higher education.) Budgets that were already probably too tight have been further cut. Needed positions have been tabled or eliminated. In many places, good teachers have lost their jobs because of financial realities. In other situations, teachers have left the vocation they once loved voluntarily because they no longer find it to be satisfying. Like everyone, teachers have opinions about how regions, communities, or particular institutions respond to the pandemic. And, like everyone, teachers may not agree with how their particular institution (school board, university system, school) has responded.
Teachers are also real people outside the hours of the school day. Many are married, so they may well be dealing with pandemic-related anxieties connected to their spouse’s job. Many are parents. This means they not only navigate the complications to their own teaching, but they have to navigate the complications affecting their own children’s education. Many are themselves adult children or have other close bonds with older loved ones who are in high-risk categories should they become infected. And many teachers themselves might be in one or more high-risk categories. Also, like everyone else teachers are anxious about all the other stuff: the economy, politics, etc.
What I don’t want to convey is that teachers are the only folks who are struggling with 2020. Everybody is struggling and every profession has is unique complications. What I do want to remind you of is that teachers play a unique and critically important role in our society. Their job is really important all the time and really difficult much of the time. And this year has been especially hard. This fall has been especially hard. Today is especially hard. So encourage the teachers around you. Pray for the teachers around you. Find tangible ways to support the teachers around you.
And for those of you reading this who are teachers: thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you are doing to make the best of a really difficult time. Hang in there. Please don’t give up. We all need you. God bless you.

Monday, November 16, 2020

To the Praise of His Glory!

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober minded and watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  I Peter 5:6-9

These verses are loaded with a message to Midwestern Christian Academy as we face our sixth month of operation during a viral pandemic.  Our school was already in a recovery and rebuilding process from a previous complicated issue that had caused conflict.  We were seeing hopeful signs of recovery including a very promising re-enrollment and a potential influx of new students when we stopped in-person learning and made the switch to E-learning last March.  

A Prowling Enemy

Christian schools have been around as long as the church, but the modern Christian school movement in America dates back to the period of time just after World War 2.  Protestant Christianity was the primary influence over the philosophical foundations of most of the public education system going back almost to the very beginning of compulsory grade school education.  It was so influential, that the Catholic church started its own school system to get the children of their families back under the instruction of the church. 

Schools started and operated by Evangelical Christians began to pop up in the 1950's as a response to the progressive education movement which by then had gained control of the instruction and curriculum of most American public schools.  The progressive movement saw the public school system at the primary means to bring about social reform in America.  They succeeded in removing the Christian influences and teaching in the schools by getting the courts to use the establishment clause of the Constitution to invoke "religious neutrality" and replaced God with the belief that human intellect is the highest power in the universe and that education of the intellect is the solution to resolving humankind's problems.  

Chicago was one of the first places where progressives succeeded in getting control of the public school system.  One of the early progressive movement leaders was John Dewey, a professor at the University of Chicago who established teacher training schools in the city where many of the public school teachers earned their degree and certification.  As Christians began to see the effect of this turn toward a completely secular, humanist philosophy of education and the removal of Christian influence and even historical references to church history in the curriculum, some saw starting their own schools as a response.  Midwestern Christian Academy was one of those schools, founded by Midwest Bible Church, a non-denominational church with a strong Evangelical perspective.  The school's legacy spans sixty years of providing a strong, Biblically-based, Christ centered education to thousands of Chicago children who have passed through the doors.   

The establishment of Christian schools where biblical truth is the foundation of the educational philosophy and students get instruction which supports their faith formation and shapes the spiritual calling of God in their lives has attracted the attention of the prowling lion.  The disadvantages faced by schools that are balancing resources provided mainly by tuition coming from families that are already paying taxes to support a public education system they aren't using are amplified by operating in a city like Chicago, where high density development makes acquiring property and operating buildings expensive.  In this city of 2.8 million people, America's third largest, there are fewer than 10 schools with a strong Evangelical Christian background currently in operation, only three high schools and a combined enrollment of under 1,000 students.  MCA is one of the oldest among that group.  

As one of those who has survived for over sixty years, MCA can point to enemy attacks which have been aimed at putting it out of existence, silencing its voice and eliminating its influence.  This is not the first time the school has experienced a crisis and according to the words of Peter's epistle, it is not likely to be the last.  

MCA was recovering from a time of conflict and turmoil which caused difficulties, impacted the school's finances and led to some changes that included a setback in an attempted start of a high school program in the 2017-18 school year.  In spite of those issues, there were signs that the school was recovering and being blessed.  We were looking at a re-enrollment percentage of over 90% of eligible students returning in the fall of 2019 and the enrollment of 30 new students.  Early enrollment for the fall of 2020 was exceeding expectations and new student applications were up over the same period from the previous year. 

Then the roaring lion appeared.  COVID-19 closed in-person instruction in mid-March and stay-at-home orders were issued.  

Many of our students' parents work in retail.  Altogether, 20 of our school's families faced either a temporary layoff or a job termination.  A few were still able to consider paying tuition, but most were faced with the difficult decision of having to drop.  We are not sure how many prospective students were affected, but we know many parents who have Pre-K children decided to forego enrollment because of the possibility of a return to E-learning.  We were able to enroll 19 new students this year, including several who have come in because CPS is still on-line with no certainty of a return to in-person instruction.  But it is clear that COVID-19 is the obstacle that stands between us and an enrollment that represents a strong recovery and a balanced budget.  

Our Instructions

Humble yourselves (v.6).  Everything that we accomplish as a Christian school ministry comes from complete dependence on God.  Our teachers work for a salary that is far below what any of them could earn in the public school system.  They are here because they have submitted their lives to God's will and believe this is what he has called them to do.  We are serving Him by serving our students and their families.  

Cast all your anxieties on him. (v.7).  It is difficult not to worry about the future.  God has blessed MCA for over sixty years.  What seems to be a big bump in the road to us is easily overcome by Him.  

Be sober minded and watchful. (v.8)  We aren't just conducting business as usual.  We are carefully planning and using the resources we have, being as efficient as possible.  We are on guard against the possibilities and we take the situation with the seriousness that it demands.  We take our responsibility as stewards of this ministry seriously.  We trust in God's protection.

Resist him, firm in your faith. (v.9) MCA has been around for over 60 years and we believe it is God's will for it to be around for at least another 60.  There are never any guarantees in a ministry like this, but students who graduate from Christian schools are equipped to make a difference in the world when they understand God's plan for their lives and commit to fulfilling their mission and purpose.  The impact of MCA's ministry is effective and far-reaching.  We place our faith and trust in God, who has given us Jesus as our savior and the Holy Spirit. 

In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  Ephesians 1:13-14 

MCA will continue to serve the Lord, to the praise of his glory! 

An Investment in the Future of MCA

So during this time of crisis, we are asking those who have been blessed by the ministry of MCA, as a graduate of the school, former student, parents who sent their children here, a Christian who sees the value of a Christian school education or a Christian who lives in Chicago and sees the impact that a Christian school has in this city, for your help.  

We need to make up the budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and put the school on a solid financial footing for the upcoming school year.  We don't know what 2021-22 looks like right now.  We are, like everyone else, hoping that medical science will be well on its way to conquering this virus.  The effects that it has left behind will still be around.  We need to think of families whose lives were turned upside down and who will need a longer time to recover.  

We need to be ambitious and hopeful for what God wants to do with our school in the future.  Here's how you can help: 

  • If you are a family with a currently enrolled student, please make an early commitment to re-enrollment.  Our diligence in planning is helped greatly when we have a good idea of how many students to expect.  We've set a March 31 deadline for re-enrolling early and are offering the incentive of a registration and tuition discount for those who do this for us.  Your commitment to us is always a blessing. 
  • You have friends in your church and community who need to be informed about what MCA offers.  Let them know that it works for you.  
  • If you are a graduate, former student or parents of former students and MCA was a blessing to you, please share something with us out of the abundance of your blessings.  No gift is too small.  Everything you can do is appreciated deeply.  If you can give regularly, we have many ways to put your gift to use, including in student scholarships for which you can receive a tax credit.  
Thank you.  God bless you.