Teacher teaching kids on digital tablet in classroom at school

Seeing Yourself Through Their Eyes

Communication & Cooperation

Occasionally a sensational story about a public school teacher involved in an alleged illegal or immoral activity off of school grounds will be reported in the national news media. Immediately a discussion follows on social media over whether teachers have to abide by school standards in their private life. Within the Adventist educational system, there would be no discussion. Adventist teachers are never off duty as role models for their students.

Teacher teaching kids on digital tablet in classroom at schoolAs part of my responsibility as director of assessment at an Adventist university, I learned what criteria students use to assess their teachers as spiritual role models. Students were interviewed and asked this open-ended question: “Have you had any teachers that you would consider to be spiritual?” No other prompts were given. Almost all said, Yes. By far, the number one criterion was “care and concern” for students. The students typically gave illustrations of this care and concern. In their words, spiritual teachers:

  • “display patience and care in the classroom”
  • are “approachable–they treat you like, not necessarily their peer, but as a friend, with respect, and they value your thoughts and opinions”
  • “see the student as a person with their own conflicts”
  • accept a student’s “ethnicity–unconditionally accepting a person as who they are and working with them from that basis”

These are not time-consuming activities. Mainly they are attitudes toward students. Love showing through. Of course, teachers do invest time in caring for students by helping them with special tutoring and sometimes in their physical needs.

When I was teaching academy English, I realized that attractive, self-confident, out-going students could easily take charge of me or the class. I wondered how the quiet, self-doubting students were experiencing my classes. I made a commitment to choose one quiet student each day in each of my classes. I would speak to that student, looking kindly at them and asking them some non-threatening, chatty question. I listened, really listened, to what they said. I asked follow-up questions. And if the topic happened to be a continuing matter, I would talk to them about it again the next day. When the school day was over, I wrote in a journal about each experience.

The pay-back surprised me. These quiet students and I slowly developed a special bond. I believe they knew that I cared for them even though our little conversations had occurred only during the few minutes before class or after class or in the hallways. Keeping a journal of these interactions lasted only two weeks. I couldn’t keep up with that. But I did keep up with this little method of interaction with students. I came to value each of these quiet students and to discover talents that were not showing on the surface.

I believe these students came to see me as a teacher who had “care and concern” for her students, and perhaps, as a spiritual role model, a role that all Adventist teachers must carry by definition.


Jane Thayer, PhD, Associate Professor of Religious Education, Emerita, Andrews University, USA. Has taught academy and college English, graduate religious education, and Christian spirituality. While working in Andrews University’s public relations office, edited Focus magazine, Andrews’ alumni journal. Served as university assessment director.

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