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Fighting back

"Fighting back" Continued...

When Silecchia hears a student swear or talk about inappropriate things, she takes a moment to step back and think of how to implement grace: “I think about what would be the best way to talk to them rather than just going up to them and scolding them for saying that.”

After the Sandy Hook school shooting last December, about a third of the students in Hillsdale teacher Liz Youngman’s high-school math class were absent, and the ones in class were agitated. One said, “One of the crazy people from the school is going to come and shoot us all.”

Youngman discussed with her students the importance of believing in a life after death. She did not tell them to believe in God, but asked: If you don’t believe in something after this life, “‘does it matter if you are a good person or a bad person? If you just die and get buried in the end, what does it matter?’ Kids really seemed to respond to that.”

Carol Haviland was a special education teacher in Hillsdale for 35 years, and has been substitute teaching for the past 10. Her middle-school classes of about 15 “educationally impaired” and “learning disabled” students stayed with her for three straight years: “They were more like family, and you can say anything to family once you know them well.”

As a Christian working in the public schools, Haviland knows the restrictions placed on teachers: “It really is doom and gloom, except there are ways you can not abandon your principles and still teach.” When she substituted for a sixth-grade class many years ago, one girl told her, “I’m an atheist.” Haviland stayed in touch with and prayed for the girl, who is now a junior in college and recently professed faith in Christ.

DeEtta Trainor has substitute-taught for 30 years at Hillsdale Middle School and High School. She is unashamed of her Christian faith: “I don’t hide my testimony under a bushel basket; it’s out there.” 

Trainor now teaches about once or twice per week: She does not preach, but when students come to her to talk about stress in their lives, she suggests that they pray and get connected to a church. Students she knows are Christian will sometimes sit and talk with her over lunch: “I had one student tell me, ‘yeah, everybody knows you’re a Christian,’ and I thought that was the best compliment.”

Megan Terasaki, who just gained her teaching credential last fall, sees her job as a relational ministry. Currently a substitute teacher in Torrance and Los Angeles school districts, Terasaki believes teachers can help point children in the right direction and teach them a lot through treating them right. She realizes, especially as a new teacher, that she can’t afford to be overt with her faith, and oftentimes her views will be unpopular—yet she hopes to be a good steward with the job that God has given her.

“A lot of students don’t have someone who loves them, so my ministry opportunity is loving my students,” Terasaki said. “It’s really investing in the kids and showing them that people do care about you. Even though you have nothing to give us, we have so much to give because of what Christ has done.”

—with reporting by Angela Lu; Samantha Gilman is a WORLD intern

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