First-Class Heroes: Teachers Discuss Semester Struggles, Triumphs
By Carl Stagner
Going down in history with the heroes of the coronavirus crisis will certainly be the teachers among us. Adjusting multiple times to fluctuating restrictions and standards, learning new software and paradigms for online teaching, and coming into close contact with students, educators remember their life’s calling and persist through the struggles. Facing so much unknown, teachers in the Church of God fiercely maintain their witness and their walk with Christ, aspects of their lives they cannot, and will not, check at the front gate. This semester, five teachers in the Church of God movement opened up with Church of God Ministries about their experiences doing their job in the midst of a pandemic.
Meet Dale Crockett. The member of First Church of God in Pueblo, Colorado, is entering his forty-second year in education and, while retired from school administration and high school bands, is currently teaching at Audubon and Keller Elementary Schools in Colorado Springs.
Ferrell Roddy is the senior pastor of Edgemont Church of God in East St. Louis, Illinois, but his role is bivocational; this pastor has been in education for over twenty-four years after a ten-year stint in the aerospace industry. He’s currently the “math interventionist” for seventh and eighth grade.
For seventeen years, Dena Halvorson, who serves on the worship team of West Side Church of God in Glendale, Arizona, has been a teacher. Fourth grade science is her current area of responsibility at The Odyssey Preparatory Academy in Goodyear.
Also, for seventeen years, Bruce Krieg taught music; this year, he shifted to the kindergarten classroom. He and his wife attend Tigard Church of God in Portland, where they direct the weekly Kid’s Club ministry.
Finally, among these Church of God teachers interviewed, there’s Greg Prather. The associate pastor and worship leader for Washington Avenue Church of God in St. Joseph, Michigan, is also in his fourteenth year of teaching a variety of music classes. Currently he teaches at Coloma High School.
At the time of interview, some of these teachers had already returned to school, others were operating under hybrid models of a few days in school each week, and others were only offering virtual education due to the pandemic. All schools offering in-person classes were requiring face masks and social distancing, as well as taking various sanitation precautions.
Each of the five teachers suggest the biggest challenge of teaching in a pandemic are the numerous changes that seem to constantly be in flux. Such changes have often come without warning, and Dale has observed the necessity of patience and flexibility. Dena, for instance, has had a major increase in workload. Due to e-learning, she’s had to create video lessons and provide instruction over Zoom. Without the in-person attention, she says it’s hard to know if students are struggling or handling assignments well.
Then there’s the enforcement of rules and good behavior for those who have returned to the traditional classroom setting. Greg Prather notes the need to continually watch for students adhering to safety measures, like keeping their mask on, as well as the appropriate use of, amid an increase use of, the Internet.
Bruce Krieg notes the seismic shift of daily duties when he became a kindergarten teacher after so many years of teaching music. Other “specials” teachers also had to make similar shifts in order to reduce class size. While he and the other teachers are finding ways to take these changes in stride, Ferrell Roddy sums up the perseverance, amid similar challenges himself, of the high calling of teacher this way: “I believe you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher. COVID-19 may keep our students from the school building, but the teaching and learning must go on.”
Certainly, it helps that each teacher has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And, while the problems of life aren’t swept away because of this reality, each teacher knows where to go and who to cling to in the midst of the mess.
For Bruce Krieg, it’s as simple as leaving it all at work. Or, for Dale, a simple-yet-intentional smile goes a long way—coupled with prayer and fresh perspective. Greg Prather and Ferrell Roddy emphasize the vitality of daily devotion with God and unplugging from that which can drain the soul—such as social media and television. But Dena Halvorson explains the common sentiment of these teachers well when she reiterates how much she loves her job.
“I don’t feel stressed because I know many are in the same boat,” she reflects. “I know God is in control of the situation even when I can’t be. I have seen grace shown to teachers, parents, and scholars, as we are all in this together. I feel God has been working in me to show more compassion to others that are in the same situation. He has helped me think about what a family’s situation could be like before I place judgment on why they can’t have their kids follow the lessons or attend class. I also keeping praying for families who have been struggling with the impacts the pandemic has created.”
Even before the onset of the coronavirus crisis, these five teachers conducted their work with the love of Christ. Their witness, though not often explicit in secular settings, has blessed hundreds and hundreds of students and their families. Dena demonstrates her faith through patience and holding high standards of excellence. Ferrell shows his faith through the love he has for the students he helps. When asked about his faith, Bruce has seized the opportunity even to pray with a family. And, while Dale understands the delicate balance of living out his faith in a public school setting, he has discovered the chance to include references to his faith at annual band-parent meetings at the start of the school year. As all are motivated to love others in their efforts, Greg Prather expounds on the opportunity the pandemic has provided to live out their witness.
“We are all on emotional edge,” he reflects. “We must give everyone an extra measure of kindness because we’re all just trying to do our best to make it through these bizarre and uncertain times. As a music teacher, I highlight the song made famous by Aretha Franklin, ‘Respect.’ If I can demonstrate respect to students and demonstrate my concern for them, perhaps they will awaken their own sense of self-respect and be able to pay it forward.”
When asked how the Church of God movement could best keep teachers in prayer during this volatile season, they cited the need for protection against burnout, freedom from fear among teachers and families, and extra doses of patience. Dena really wants teachers to avoid losing sight of why they “went into teaching in the first place.” Bruce expounds on this tendency toward burnout when he notes that teachers are “not equipped to do the work of building and organizing digital class platforms, online lesson submission, etc.” But Greg Prather offers a suggestion for intentional prayer that anyone can do in appreciation and concern for the teachers among us.
“Everyone knows at least one school teacher or administrator personally,” he says. “Pray for that person daily by name. Reach out to that teacher and ask how you can pray for them.” Noting that teacher e-mail addresses are usually listed on the school website, the idea shouldn’t be hard to turn into reality. Then, he adds, turn that prayer into action by doing something for the teachers and staff—encouraging notes, a box of donuts, and so on. “Such kindness then ‘puts feet to our prayers,’” Greg concludes.
Thank you to all the teachers out there! Keep up the great work.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.
*Feature (top) photo © Can Stock Photo / halfpoint.