by Dr. Barry Shealy, FPD Associate Head of School
Recently, I presented the William Harris Bragg Teacher of the Year Award to math teacher Cynthia Huggins. Cynthia’s students and peers praised her for supporting students personally, academically, and spiritually. They mentioned her hard work, availability, skill in the classroom, and love for FPD. As one student said, “She works with us personally and will always do everything she can to make us succeed, while keeping the class challenging enough that we have to try our hardest.”
Earlier this spring, our STAR Student, Jansyn Samples, selected English and psychology teacher Chelsea Latimer as her STAR Teacher. For this award, the school’s top SAT scorer selects the teacher who had the greatest impact on his or her scholastic development.
In many schools, the same one or two teachers are recognized year after year. At FPD, however, students have selected 18 different STAR Teachers over the past 20 years. We have also had as many as 20 teachers nominated for Teacher of the Year in a single year. It is no surprise that parents consistently mention our teachers as a primary strength of the school. One parent wrote during accreditation last year, “The teachers and staff members go above and beyond to get to know our students on a personal level, supporting their strengths and giving them wings.”
So, who are these 90+ people with whom we entrust our students for 1200 hours a year (plus many hours of after-school activities)?
The FPD Profile of a Christian Educator defines four characteristics we seek in teachers.
Mature and Growing Christian
The Apostle Paul encouraged his readers to, “Be imitators of me, as I imitate Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). FPD calls teachers who are worth of emulating. They all have different personalities, gifts, styles, interests, and abilities but all share the quality of mature and growing Christians and credible professions of faith.
All teachers are involved in a local church and many teach and serve in leadership capacities in those churches. They participate in biblical studies as part of their professional learning and their annual professional growth plans include plans for spiritual growth. They regularly pray for each other and their students worship together at least monthly. During accreditation, one teacher praised “the community among the faculty which overflows to the families of our students. The teachers truly care about each other and the hearts of their students.”
Qualified and Growing Professional
All FPD faculty members have a degree and certification or its equivalent in their teaching field. Over 70% of teachers have an advanced degree (as compared to 44% of Georgia teachers). FPD teachers average 18 years of experience with over 80% teaching for 10 or more years.
One noted educator said, “If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.” Our teachers understand this concept well and participate regularly in educational, subject area, and biblical studies. We have a strong Professional Learning Community culture with teachers learning with and from each other in ways that connect their learning directly to their classrooms.
We annually have a whole-school learning emphasis. This year the faculty and staff participated in small group studies of Paul David Tripp’s Your Christian School – A Culture of Grace. Individuals and groups of teachers also traveled to workshops on writing, technology, literature, mathematics (at the University of Chicago), environmental education, and physics among others. Recently, a group of teachers shared their experience at a Diversity in Christian Education conference with the entire faculty.
A visiting college administrator was so impressed with our professional learning he said he hoped to take aspects of our model back to his university. In our graduate profile, we want all our students to be Lifelong Learners and our teachers are great models for them.
Competent Christian Educator
FPD teachers’ instructional skills are evaluated in seven areas including demonstrating understanding of the nature of the learner, the content area and how it is arranged to facilitate learning, and the assessment of student achievement.
Part of the teacher’s content knowledge is demonstrating a Biblical foundation for the subject area. For example, in teaching about “first Christian king of the Franks,” Rennie Atkinson is able to raise the issue of what it means to be a “Christian” ruler. In my Calculus class, I emphasize that we are developing ways of modeling our world to identify and solve problems we face and, thus, fulfill our responsibility for redemptive action in the world. English teachers use literature to help students understand and respond to different world views they may face in life.
A mentor of mine said the best teaching method is the redeemed personality of the teacher. Students experience a wide variety of innovative instructional methods both across classes and within an individual class. We especially value hands-on and integrated learning opportunities. These can be widely seen in Lower School science as students are involved in our instructional gardens, nature trails, and with the lab and STEAM carts. The Middle School teachers have implemented integrated, interactive units and incorporating service learning aspects as well. FPD teachers have presented their work at regional teacher conferences. Our teachers also use technology to enhance learning and to help students understand and become proficient in the appropriate use of today’s tools.
Trustworthy and Loyal Employee
Our teachers are accountable for many administrative tasks including documenting student performance, managing curriculum standards, implementing school policy, and communicating with parents. It is an encouragement to see teachers attending plays, concerts, sporting events, and other activities to support students outside of the classroom. The mission of FPD addresses many aspects of student growth (see the Profile of a Graduate). Our teachers understand and recommitted that mission and the full development of our students.
In surveys and accreditation reports, FPD is regularly praised for its sense of community, strength of the academic program, and focus on spiritual formation. Along with these, the most consistent area of praise is for the faculty and staff. Our last accreditation visiting team said they found a mission-driven school with a well-deserved solid reputation unique in the community. The foundation for this evaluation is the mission-unified faculty and staff that God has called and assembled. James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). We have a group of men and women who are, by God’s grace and guidance, up for the challenge.