• EncourAGEnet: Remembering the Past: Reflections on Differences Experienced in Lutheran and Public Schools

  • Remembering the Past:
    Reflections on Differences Experienced
    in Lutheran and Public Schools

    I trained to teach in parochial schools at Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Neb. My first assignment was at St. Peter Lutheran School in Hampton, Neb. where I taught grades 1, 2, and 3. I had 19 students. I had attended St. Peter Lutheran School all eight grades in Columbus, Ind. There were 48 in my class. While teachers learn from being in the classroom with teachers, I learned more about teaching in that one year of teaching grades 1, 2, and 3 than in all of college. There was a lot of preparation because I had to prepare lessons for three grades each day. I had to learn to teach students to work independently on their activities while I taught one grade at a time.

    Most of my experience was in grades 6–8. As I was teaching sixth grade, it occurred to me that there were actually multiple grade students just in that sixth-grade room. I had students who read and did math at the second-grade level and students that read and did math at the eleventh-grade level. I applied what I had learned that first year of teaching and had five math groups one year. One student was able to take the end of the chapter test at the beginning of each chapter and earn 90 percent or better. His math assignments were to study the math items he missed on the chapter test and then retake the test, on which he always scored 100 percent. He worked independently and finished the book by the end of October. I found more challenging math work for him. He continued to work independently.

    I had a group of seven students who knew none of the math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Instead of using the sixth-grade math text, I got activities for them that were intended to help them learn their math facts and apply them. By the end of the year, they were much more proficient in math and had grown substantially on their achievement tests, though not at the seventh-grade level by the end of the year. They were more confident in math. The text we used had three levels of instruction in sixth-grade math. I taught the lessons, and those remaining three groups of students did different-level assignments and learned to work independently, but they also had permission to ask classmates for help if they got stuck and if I was teaching another group. At the end of the year the whole class felt more confident in math, and their achievement test results showed multi-year growth.

    Our school, due to low class enrollment, considered joining two classes together one year. That year it was grades two and three in the same classroom with one teacher. The parents thought that was old fashioned, and it was not a popular idea. I knew the reality was that there were several grade abilities in every grade. The students are not all at the same grade level.

    The next time I taught three grades in the same classroom was a substitute teaching job in a Sheboygan, Wis., public school. This public school had students from grades 1, 2, and 3 in the same classroom. These were gifted students. There were two such classrooms next to each other. Some students were first graders taking first, second, or third-grade math. Some students were taking first, second, or third-grade phonics and reading according to their ability regardless of what school year they were. I enjoyed that classroom and was called back there several times.

    I taught for 30 years in parochial schools, mostly at the middle-school level. Instruction in the Christian, Lutheran faith occurred each day and was included in all the other subjects besides religion. The sixth-grade social studies was about ancient cultures and much of that mirrored Bible stories with which the students were familiar. Art projects often reflected religious studies as did writing assignments. Science and the stories about creation also interacted.

    Adjusting instruction to students’ achievement levels solves and prevents behavior problems in the classroom. If the work is not challenging enough, advanced students get bored and can be quite disruptive. If the work is too challenging, some students won’t even attempt the work and instead do other activities that cause disruption in the classroom. The goal is to help each student grow in understanding and accomplishment. Students that grow in understanding are much easier to guide and teach.

    When I subbed in many different schools, mostly in public schools, I saw such behavior and disruption problems. In defense of the teachers, I found that I had much more freedom in planning my lessons in the parochial schools where I taught than in the public school classrooms. One school system required all the sixth-grade teachers to be on a similar chapter in the math text at the same time of the school year.

    Another major difference I found was that of the motivation inherent in the lessons and procedures teachers use. In public schools the motivation I saw was the promise of getting a good, well-paying job. Do your best in school so you can be successful monetarily when you are an adult.

    In a parochial school, each student is made aware that God made them and gave them unique abilities. God’s plan for them is that they are to use their talents and hone and practice them so that they can serve others in their lives. God will take care of all your needs: food, drink, house, home, family, job, etc. God values a student if he has been gifted with the ability to be a doctor the same as one who is a great mechanic. Both were designed for service to others as well as to witness to God’s great love for all of them.

    There are some parents that are teaching their children when they are at home the same goal of earning the most money. The Christian school tries to reinforce the spiritual aspects of their children’s motives for learning so they can be of greater service. Studying the Bible and learning to memorize Bible passages is a strong builder of the Christian life in students. One school gave parents a discount if their family was more involved in church activities. I don’t know if that works, but the goal is good.

    • How might you account for the similarities between teaching many years ago and today?
    • How would you compare the differences between Lutheran and public schools then and today?
    • Why do you think we rarely refer to Lutheran schools as parochial schools today?

    Parochial school teachers typically earn less than public school teachers. The Lord cared for me and my four children despite the lower income. I grew spiritually from preparing lessons that involved Bible study and regular participation with other Christian teachers and families in congregations. I have no regrets. I was a single parent 34 years ago and still am because my parochial school teacher husband died. God provided for us in all the ways He promised. I’m retired now and have a fine congregation where I get to teach occasionally and am well cared for yet. God is good all the time.

    Bertha (Bertie) Oyler is a retired Lutheran school teacher who graduated from Concordia Teachers College, Seward, Neb., class of 1965. She taught in both public and Lutheran schools in Wisconsin and Indiana.

    Photos © iStock/Barbara Marini, Moussa81, Tatyana Abramovich

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