For the first two days of break, I joined the other remaining staff (that weren’t on missions trips with students) to Swiss clean* the BFA campus. It wasn’t a fun chore, in the least. Yet, I reminded myself that the work was minor in comparison to the hard labor that many of our mission teams were doing in other countries. This attitude was helpful, but I carried some pride because of the fact that I was spending my first opportunity to sleep in on working hard for the sake of others. The campus was about to be filled with educators from ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) for the ICEC (International Christian Educator Conference).
A couple of days after spring break started, ACSI teachers arrived from around the globe. We had teachers from several European countries, Russia, Mercy Ships, and from all over Africa. The purpose of the conference was to provide professional development, training, and spiritual encouragement. Several workshops were made available, which provided specific information pertaining to different school subjects, integration of technology, leadership, and tips for working with TCKs (Third Culture Kids). We also had the special privilege of hearing from PhDs John Dickson and Mark Pike for our general sessions.
The small amount of pride that I had for my “hard work,” in preparing the BFA campus for this conference quickly dissipated when I began to hear the stories of other teachers that had gathered at BFA for this conference. On the very first day, I ate lunch with two girls who worked at the Rain Forest International school in Cameroon. Both girls snickered, respectfully, at the internet issues of our campus. They reported that they sometimes lose electricity all together. If this wasn’t enough to humble me, I met the director of the school of Mercy Ships (recently featured on 60 minutes) at a seminar on transition. Sometimes I find it hard to live every moment of my life in the same atmosphere in which I work. Yet, I found that this challenge was pretty easy compared to the teachers who travel with all of their students on a ship together, in close quarters. Lastly, all of my “hard work,” scrubbing our campus clean was soon made to look like a vacation in comparison to the extreme work that the staff of the Sahel Academy (Niger, Africa) had to do to rescue their school from the damage of the Niger River flood this year. All together, I felt the need to repent of my pride and of my complacency.
Coming into this conference, I had low expectations and a feeling of obligation to be there. In the end, I felt incredibly blessed, encouraged, and challenged. For most of our visitors, staying here in Kandern was like a vacation. Our campus was a prototype for what their schools could look like in the future. BFA is much older and well established than most of their schools. So, it makes sense that our campus and technology is as progressive as it is. It’s logical that they would look to us for innovative ideas. However, the trials that so many of them have recently been through were far more inspirational to me.
On the other side of the spectrum. I spent the following week with a dear friend from SC and his girlfriend (a new friend of mine who teaches in a large public school in Lexington, SC). The purpose of their visit was to spend time with me and to see a little bit of Europe. However, as you can imagine, the career that we have in common came up in conversation quite frequently. My new friend told me all about how her entire school had iPads and how they were using technology in the classroom. She also shared with me the challenge of balancing love and grace with her students’ obvious need for structure, discipline, and authority. Discipline and authority are not void of love and grace, but the balance of these characteristics is hard, especially in a public school system.
The message that I kept hearing in every session of ICEC seemed to be this: the character and the competence of the teacher is the most important part of education. In many ways, this truth encouraged me, because I’m not the greatest teacher but I am extremely relational. I rely on my character a lot, rather than my experience. So, I find myself in an interesting place, with its own set of challenges. My fellow teachers in Africa are still bailing water out of their school. My fellow Christian teachers in Lexington are trying to show love through an authoritative position. Here, in Kandern, I’m just trying to follow the Lord more fiercely and humbly through His service. We all come from a different place, with a different perspective, but with similar goals.
I’m so grateful for the chance to look at education from multiple perspectives this break.
(I have added an ICEC tab with notes from all of my sessions if you are interested in learning more about my work or the truth spoken in our general sessions, by Dr. John Dickson.)
*American cleaning usually involves dusting, vacuuming, and basic surface scrubbing. German cleaning involves all of the above, as well as scrubbing base boards, mopping, and gardening. The Germans are serious about their gardening. Swiss cleaning involves all of the above, as well as serious weeding, radiator cleaning, painting, etc. It has become clear to me that Swiss clean means: it should look like I’ve never been here.