Remembering the Basics: It Begins with the Teacher

Those who teach the early grades understand the extreme weight of the responsibility they take on when they agree to teach the very young. Knowing that you are beginning the journey of cultivating virtue in a young one can be ominous and downright petrifying! I well remember the year that the kindergarten teaching position at our school opened and our head of school asked me to take the class. I said, yes, and then, no, to the job numerous times throughout the summer but finally gave in and took on the class. By saying, yes, I learned more about myself and what it takes to be a good teacher than what my students ever learned from me. I guess you could say that as far as my teaching career goes, everything I learned, I learned in kindergarten! (Or at least almost everything)

Lesson one: A successful teacher is a disciplined teacher

Being disciplined meant that I had to commit to putting in the time and effort required to make my lessons. My students and my students’ outcomes had to be my first priority. That may sound obvious, but it has some real- world consequences. It meant things like reading a book cover to cover, annotating it, and writing comprehension questions for it when I would have rather watched my favorite show. It meant going to the community library every week to find books that might instill a sense of wonder in my students or add richness to our lessons. It meant writing postcards to each student three times a summer so that they could feel a connection between their lives and my life and look forward to whatever we were going to learn in the upcoming year. It also meant that I might need to attend a local pee wee baseball game or soccer game so that each child might know that I was interested in his whole life and not just his life in my classroom. Discipline for a teacher means that you have to become a voracious learner. Not only must you learn what you must teach presently, you must learn as much as you can about each level of work that your students will encounter as they work through the levels of the trivium.

I spent time in visiting and learning in other teachers’ classrooms so that I would have a better idea of what was ahead for my students’ sake.

Lesson two: A teacher must always be prepared

John Milton Gregory (The Seven Laws of Teaching) describes this as “a teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth or art to be taught.” This means, anything that you are going to teach needs to be thoroughly read, thought out and practiced by you first. Practically that meant that I needed to read every page of every book in advance, I needed to learn every lyric to every song and chant and be the master of any information or fact I was going to teach. As Gregory wrote, “what a man does not know he cannot teach successfully.” You cannot “wing it.” You cannot open a book for the first time in front of your students. You have to think about the questions your students might ask. You have to know the lessons you are going to teach “inside and out” before you enter the classroom. Along with preparing a lesson, in the youngest grades, this also means that you have planned out where in your classroom each lesson will take place (mapped it out) and have thought out and readied all teaching armamentaria there. This allows you to teach and then release without interruption so that discovery and the joy of successful learning becomes internal for each student.

Lesson Three: Teaching must be predictable and offer consistent structure

This lesson was not so difficult for me to grasp. Being the mother of three children, early on in their lives I had learned that the best way to keep a happy home and form good habits in my children was to offer them the structure. This structure took the form of a set of negotiables and non-negotiables in our home, and I was always steady, stable and unwavering in my expectations of their meeting those. This made for an easy transition to the classroom. Beginning lessons for the very young means a lot of practicing procedures and expectations over and over until the desired behavior becomes habit. Practically that might be a young student learning to raise his hand to speak instead of blurting out, or it might be the expectation that the students will line up quietly and orderly every time they get ready to exit the classroom. For the teacher, this also means practically that a classroom schedule must be fairly regimented so that students can come to depend on “what comes next” or “what they should do next.” The structure must first be set by the teacher, and the structure is then imposed on the student.

Each subsequent year of teaching kindergarten, I gained a deeper understanding of what it meant to be disciplined, prepared, predictable and structured. All three lessons served my classroom well. My students flourished and their parents were appreciative of the changes they were seeing in their children that were spilling over into their homes and lives.

About the Author

Debra Sugyama, Executive Assistant and Educational Consultant at SCL (2009-2015)

A Positive Approach to Technology

“Today, there’s a new elite schooled in an entirely reconstituted classical education…. [These students] stuck on the dark side of the new media digital divide will be as out of luck and out of touch as those who cursed Johannes Gutenberg as an agent of the devil when that first printed Bible came off the press in 1452.”

— Richard Rapaport,

According to progressives, the ferocious pace of technological advance changes all the rules. They believe that an education holding to old traditions is worse than useless; it’s negligent. Success in the modern world requires a “new literacy;” students need new skills, new tools, and new norms.

Are the progressives right? Will classically trained students be as out of luck in the new world as those who cursed Johannes Gutenberg? Of course not! Our students cannot only survive the digital age, they can lead it. Well- prepared students can bridge any divide, but we must keep our wits about us!

But keeping our wits is difficult. Modern technology frightens us, especially as we see it motion- blurred by rapid change. It’s like watching a bullet train speed past our platform. Even if we wanted to get on, we couldn’t catch hold now–not without having our arm ripped off. So why even try?

Thankfully, things aren’t that bad. Yes, our gadgets evolve at breakneck speed, but humans haven’t changed since Adam’s lips first touched the apple in Eve’s hand. Men’s tools may change constantly, but the purposes for which they create those tools never change. Man will always be man, and a classical education’s cardinal goal is to train humans to be good humans, not good gadget operators.

This principle directs our approach to teaching in the digital age. Change is constant, but so is the virtue required to survive it. The greatest challenge our students face in the digital age is not acquiring basic technical skills. Any student with a modest amount of self-determination– and who can read–can teach himself these skills in a long afternoon. No, the greatest challenge our students face
is acquiring wisdom. After all, even if I can type at 400 words per minute, what good is that? The critical question is “What will I type that quickly?” Will it be a ceaseless stream of narcissistic drivel (in 140-character chunks), or will it be something of weight and consequence? From this perspective, classical educators do not need to change anything in order to prepare their students for the digital age. We’re already preparing them. If the rapid change of technology requires anything of us, it requires wise decisions based on stable principles. And cultivation of wisdom is the very soul of our education.

Yet wisdom is not merely apprehending timeless principles; it is also willing and acting according to them in concrete circumstances. We cannot, therefore, ignore advances in technology. Specifically, we cannot shun the Internet. More than any other advance, the Internet is pervasively altering our modes of communication. Man’s nature hasn’t changed, but the Internet is a constantly changing space in which man acts. We can call it the “virtual world” or the “digital world,” but whatever its name, it’s a new and distinct circumstance that warrants the attention of prudence.

On the positive side, the Internet grants us unprecedented access to each other and the archived corpus of human writing, and this access is growing all the time, but this is only the beginning. Take for example the humble search tool. Never before have men been able so quickly and precisely to search the contents of the great human library. Oh, without a doubt, danger lurks in this tool. Google can indeed make us dumb; Socrates condemned books for the same reason. The Internet can become “an elixir not of memory, but of reminding,” offering “the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom.” But, like books, the Internet can also make us much wiser. Our choices make the difference. As with the Great Books themselves, we should plunder the Egyptians.

On the negative side, because the Internet is a new and changing space, we cannot simply assume that students growing up in the digital world will “just know” how to live in it well, any more than we can assume that students growing up in the real world will “just know” how to live in it well. Yes, mere exposure teaches them to manipulate the tools of the digital world, but not how to do so wisely. They might be able to fix a computer, but they don’t know how to behave on Facebook, or search responsibly, or how to handle the Internet’s dangerous mix of freedom and anonymity. It’s like knowing how to work a car’s gas pedal without knowing wise driving habits. Simple experience can teach the former; another person must teach the latter. Which, incidentally, was Socrates’ point about books as well.

Free men–virtuous men–must be others-focused, not self-focused, and this is what Christian classical education cultivates in our students’ hearts. But students need practice in order to learn virtue, and we cannot depend on our students to draw the connection between virtue in the real world and virtue in the digital world. We need to provide guidance and opportunities for them to practice. That means using technology, particularly the Internet, in our curriculum. Of course, this will also help our students reap the great benefits of wise use of the Internet.

Please understand me! I am not arguing for touch- typing classes in the second grade or for a computer lab at every school. Nor am I arguing for integrating Facebook into your class. I’m simply arguing against absolute negation of technology and arguing for a considered, realistic, and positive approach to using technology in our schools. It is a part of our world, and we cannot ignore it, nor should we want to, since there is so much good to be gained from it.

Part of a realistic approach, however, means carefully counting the cost. I do not believe we should go on a shopping spree like progressive educators who hope that owning fancier gizmos will resolve their snowballing failure. Instead, we need to weigh our educational goals, our teachers’ time, and our school’s budget against the cost of buying technology. Sacrifices must be made, and I firmly believe in sacrificing flashy hardware over precious time in class or salary dollars.

Ironically, many educators overlook the most significant costs of technology: time and training. Even if your institution can afford a fleet of new computers, you must consider the time it will require to secure and maintain them. More importantly, you must weigh the cost of initial and ongoing training, especially for your teachers. If you neglect training, any money you spend will be wasted. If your teachers do not know how to use technology virtuously, how can they train the students to do so?

Practically, however, many institutions can avoid large investments in hardware. Most of your students already have their own computers or have access to one at home. So you don’t need to buy computers. Instead, when it’s time to teach responsible search skills, have students bring their own devices to class, or use only one computer (perhaps the teacher ’s or a student volunteer ’s) and do small group tutorials. A teacher who knows what he or she is doing, both with the technology and with the assignment, is more effective than one laptop per child.

Clearly, the most important factor is teachers who know what they are doing. Administrators, we need to train our teachers, and, teachers, it’s time to stop excusing your refusal to learn by complaining about technology’s harmful effects. You must lead by example. Show your students how to be excellent students and learn to use the tools virtuously yourselves. Only then will you be able to teach your students to do the same.

Finally, if we think creatively, we can find ways to kill many birds with one stone. Our teachers need training and so do our students. It makes sense to bring these two together. Again, you do not need a computer lab. Instead, recruit a tech savvy parent to offer after school workshops and advertise them as BYOC: Bring Your Own Computer. The basic skills can be taught in hours, so a few weekend courses can accomplish a lot, and the conversations you can have about technology’s role in our lives will be invaluable.

The good news is that a classical education will prepare students to lead in the digital age. Indeed, a good classical education meets students’ greatest need: the need for wisdom. Yet we cannot assume that our current curriculum is sufficient. If we believe in practicing virtue in all areas of life, we must practice it in the digital world as well. Incorporating technology into our curriculum does not require us to give up our principles. On the contrary, it is our unique principles that compel us to incorporate technology wisely.

Teaching in the Light of Christ’s Achievement

Christ was born of the Virgin, incarnated the Word, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, resurrected and ascended into heaven. Join us to examine His person and His accomplishments, as well as their influence over the establishment of the foundations and goals of our teaching.

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the Founder and President of CiRCE Institute. He has also helped found Providence Academy, Ambrose School, Great Ideas Academy and Regents Schools of the Carolinas. Andrew is the co-author of Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, The Lost Tools of Writing and The CiRCE Guide to Reading. Andrew is also a consultant and founded the CiRCE apprenticeship.

Slaying the Cram-Pass-Forget Dragon

The norm for classes in contemporary schools is the Cram–Pass–Forget cycle. Students cram for tests, pass them, and then forget most of what they crammed in just a few weeks. Instead of cramming and forgetting, students should learn, master, and retain what they have learned. This workshop presents an overview of a tested and proven mastery-oriented approach to instruction. Examples will focus on science and math instruction, but the same principles can be applied in any subject.

John Mays

After receiving his BS in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University, John D. Mays spent 14 years in industry. Vocationally drawn toward the field of education, John acquired an MEd in Secondary Education from the University of Houston in 1989, and subsequently completed 36 hours of graduate study in Physics at Texas A&M. He also completed an MLA at St. Edward’s University in 2003. John joined Regents School of Austin in 1999 and served as the Math-Science Department Chair from 2001 until 2009. At that time he became Director of the Laser Optics Lab at Regents, where he continues to teach part-time. He founded Novare Science & Math in 2009, and is the author of numerous student science texts and teacher resources.

Teaching with Excellence

Teaching with Excellence is a seminar for you if you want to be more con dent in your role as a classroom teacher. You will be equipped with practical techniques and teaching frameworks that you can implement in your classroom on Monday.

Lori Jill Keeler

Lori Jill Keeler has served for the past 12 years as the Lower School Principal at The Westminster School at Oak Mountain in Birmingham, AL. She earned a BA in Secondary Education and English Literature, and an MEd in Integrated Curriculum and Instruction from Covenant College. She served as the educational expert on the founding Board of Directors for Evangel Classical Christian School in Helena, AL, has wri en second- through sixth-grade Bible curriculum, and has been a guest speaker on creating a culture of grace at several classical schools in the Southeast. Lori Jill and her husband, Sco , have two sons.

Did Rome Fall? And Other Historical Questions That We Need to Ask But Seldom Do

Historical “facts” do not speak for themselves. They have meaning only when we place them into a narrative frame. As Christian educators we need to teach our history students to interrogate the historical narratives that frame our conceptions (and misconceptions) of the past: Was there a Renaissance? The Middle Ages occurred in the middle of what? Did the Puritans dominate the culture of colonial New England? Did the generation gap widen in the 1960s?

Christopher Schlect

Christopher Schlect, PhD, has worked in classical and Christian education for over 25 years. As Fellow of History at New Saint Andrews College, he teaches courses in ancient and medieval civilizations, US history, American Christianity, medieval education, and Classical Rhetoric, among other subjects. He has also taught introductory and advanced courses in U.S. history and Ancient Rome at Washington State University. He is the Director of New Saint Andrews College’s graduate program in Classical and Christian Studies. He taught history and the Bible at Logos School in Moscow, ID, for many years, and serves classical and Christian schools around the country through his consulting and teacher-training activities. His published writings appear in various school curricula and other outlets. Schlect’s research in 20-century Protestant church life has earned numerous competitive grants and fellowships, and he has presented his research at meetings of the American Historical Association, the American Society of Church History, the American Academy of Religion, and the Idaho Council for History Education. He was recently named the 2016–17 distinguished lecturer for the Association of Reformed Colleges and Universities. His historical work includes service as a ranger for the U.S. National Park Service, where he specialized in Protestant missions to the Nez Perce people and interpreted historical sites and material culture for members of the public. Schlect is a teaching elder at Trinity Reformed Church (CREC) in Moscow, ID. He and his wife, Brenda, have five children, all products of a classical and Christian education. They also have one grandchild.

The Winsome Instructor Teaching Well

After 23 years in the classroom, I’ve come to the realization that the key to successfully educating any student and encouraging them to embrace the classical, Christian model begins and ends with being a winsome instructor, which involves building and maintaining healthy relationships and structuring lessons in such a way that is captivating and leaves students desiring to learn more. In my talk I share the necessity for such instruction and practical examples of how it might be achieved in the classroom.

Rob Williams

I have been involved in classical and Christian education since 1994 in the capacity of a classroom instructor or administrator. I was the headmaster of The Master’s School in San Marcos, Texas, 1996– 1997. In 1997 I joined the faculty of Regents School of Austin as a sixth-grade teacher. In 2005 I moved to the School of Logic as a history teacher. While at Regents, I have been actively involved in curriculum development and teacher training. I am also the author of Thinkwave (CreateSpace, 2014), a YA fantasy fiction that explores the implications of a theistic worldview, and how renewing our minds according to the truth of this worldview extricates us from self-deception and transforms our lives as well as those around us. You can learn more about me and my book at my website

Teaching Writing in a Humanities Course

Join veteran teacher Rick Trumbo of Veritas School in a conversation about practical ideas for instructing students in writing in the context of an interdisciplinary Humanities course. Rick will suggest general principles of writing instruction and specific assignments and methods of assessment that he has employed, as well as soliciting discussion from workshop participants in their own practices and questions. Middle and high school teachers of history and/or literature will nd this conversation useful.

Rick Trumbo

Rick Trumbo has nished his 40th year as a teacher of humanities and classics. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College (BA, Humanities) and the University of Richmond (MHum, concentration in Classics). He is the father of ve children and grandfather of 10. He is a ruling elder in the PCA, and has served on the Candidates and Credentials commi ee of James River Presbytery. He has taught Humanities, Latin, the Bible, and Logic at Veritas School for the past nine years. Rick has previously o ered workshops at SCL on interdisciplinary courses and on classical virtue in political thought.

Structuring Space and Time for Human Flourishing

In this workshop, we will explore ways of structuring space (primarily classroom architecture) and time (scheduling) to promote the flourishing of faculty and students. Every school has limitations regarding space and time, and no two schools are alike in their limitations, but employing a thoughtful design process can help schools make the most of what limited space and time they have. I will share the process whereby we have begun to restructure our classrooms and our daily schedule at The Stony Brook School in hopes of inspiring schools to do the same within the context of their own limitations.

Sean Riley

Sean A. Riley, PhD, serves as Academic Dean at The Stony Brook School, a Christian boarding and day school on Long Island. He earned his PhD in philosophy from Baylor University. At The Stony Brook School, Sean has taught courses in history, English, the Bible, and philosophy; coached football, tennis, and the Ethics Bowl team; and served as a dorm dad. He lives in Stony Brook with his wife, Emily, and his four children: Aidan, Liam, Honora, and Quinn.

Orthodox Hermeneutical Pre-Suppositions: The Soul of Classical Christian Education

The soul of classical Christian education is found in our Confessions, perhaps more particularly in our theological and philosophical hermeneutical pre-suppositions. This talk will begin with a brief overview of major epochs of Christian hermeneutics in order to set up a demonstration of the distinctions and similarities between pre-modern, modern, and post-modern interpretive pre-suppositions. Emerging from this discussion of how we read and understand things is a somewhat definitive description of the soul of classical, Christian education.

Paul Wolfe

Headmaster of The Cambridge School of Dallas for eight years now. Previously, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies for 20 years, including the Huber Drumwright, Jr. Chair of the New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. PhD in New Testament Studies, University of Aberdeen, additional studies at Cambridge University and University of Tubingen, Germany. BCA and MA in Biblical Studies, Dallas Baptist University.