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Faith and Work: Leah Steen

Creekside member and public school teacher Leah Steen shares about how her faith and vocation intersect.

1. Give us a brief overview of your responsibilities in your vocation as a teacher.
I am a 4th grade teacher at High Springs Community School. It is a public school that houses kindergarten through 8th grade. I teach reading, writing, social studies, science, and math. I typically have a classroom of 24 students each year.

2. How does your vocation contribute to the common good?
Teaching as a profession has been around for a long time with the purpose of equipping children to be contributors in society. For me, this means not only teaching them knowledge and understanding of concepts, but facilitating their growth as individuals who can relate and communicate effectively. My hope is for them to be able to navigate both success and failure.  It is really important to me that the students I teach find joy in learning, to know that curiosity is a terrific springboard, and some of the greatest lessons learned were learned from mistakes. My goal is for students to learn those things within the walls of our classroom, where it is safe, and then take those skills into the world.

3. How do you experience brokenness in your vocation?
A public school classroom is a microcosm of the larger world. I have a classroom full of 9 to 10 year old sinners taught by a sinful teacher. I see the brokenness of this world when a student brings in a suitcase because they don’t know what foster home they will be staying in on this particular day. I see brokenness in the way students treat one another, the way they respond in anger, students who have no understanding of grace or mercy. I experience brokenness in myself, in my impatience, my frustration, my lack of hope, my lack of kindness towards my faculty peers. There is brokenness in the educational structure - the idea that each child should be held to the same standard.

4. What do you do to prepare yourself to face that brokenness?
I know I live in a broken world. I also know that I have an all sufficient Savior who overcomes this brokenness. Spurgeon says that the Lord’s love, which is always available, is available not only to me, but through me. I’ve become pretty confident that God has called me to teach and that He has called me to work heartily as for the Lord and not for men. This verse from Colossians has helped me tremendously during my times of doubt. It reminds me that my strength comes from Him and not myself. Practically, I know in order to teach effectively, I have to be armed with some tools. I have to be in prayer and I have to be in God’s word. One of my favorite things to do is as soon as I receive my classroom roster, I pray for my students by name. I love to think about them individually, fearfully and wonderfully made and how the Lord placed them in our classroom. The first day of preplanning, I shut my door and I pray over my classroom. I pray that it will be a classroom where my students know that they are loved. I pray that I will love well and though I can’t explicitly teach the gospel, I can be salt and light through my actions.

5. How can you glorify God in your vocation?
Bottom line, I want students in my classroom to know they are loved, they are celebrated, and they are delighted in. My confidence in God’s abiding love, enables me to be quick to ask forgiveness and to give forgiveness. I knew when I signed up to teach in a secular setting, I was not going to be teaching the bible. I had to figure out ways to show Jesus’s love. We have a couple of mantras in our class with one being that we love a “do over”. Essentially, this means we acknowledge when we've done something wrong, we forgive one another and then we move on and it is forgotten, not to be brought up again. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, I get lots of opportunities to model this behavior as a teacher! I try and purpose for each of my students to know I am interested in them and their unique personalities. The Lord delights in us and rejoices over us! One of my favorite parts of teaching is learning from my students, laughing with them, forming a safe place of camaraderie. I think when they know their teacher is for them, regardless of their abilities, strengths, or weaknesses, it then gives them the confidence to respond to others in a similar manner. They will leave my classroom at the end of the academic year and at that point, I want them to love learning, I want them to reach their academic goals, but more than any of those things, I want them to know they are loved without condition.