There is a running joke that allowed or not, there will always be prayer in public schools. As long as teachers have students and students have tests, there will be prayer!
For many teachers, though, prayer and faith play a major role in their work every day. For these three, faith is one thing that took them into the classroom in the first place.
The call is a journey
Bobbie Hill, a member of Memorial United Methodist Church from Bastrop, Louisiana, earned her teaching certification at age 50. She graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in psychology, earned a master's in reading, graduated from Iliff School of Theology with a master's of divinity, earned a third master's in education and is now working on certification in special education. The woman loves learning and gives God all the credit for making it happen.
While raising two children and volunteering in their schools, Hill discovered a love for tutoring. She earned a master's in reading and taught for two years. Then, one Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, she saw a notice about Iliff School of Theology.
"I thought that sounded so interesting," she said, "and just thought, why not apply?"
She was accepted, received a scholarship and in 1990 moved from Louisiana to Colorado to attend Iliff, focusing on peace with justice. She graduated in 1995. While at Iliff, Hill worked as a Christian education intern in rural western Kansas.
The jobs in Christian education and youth ministry did not offer much in the way of salary and benefits, she said, but "I thoroughly enjoyed dealing with children."
Deciding to become a certified teacher, Hill earned another master's in education that "required me to do practice teaching," she explained. "I did it in a large public school in Denver across the street from a public housing complex. My first classroom experience was with inner city, poor kids, largely Hispanic whose first language was Spanish."
And she loved it!
Hill taught in the Denver area until 2012. An economic downturn caused elimination of her job. She saw it as a God-given opportunity to do something new.
She attended an education job fair and found herself at an international teaching table. "I just thought, 'Well, why not?'" she said. Almost immediately Hill was offered a two-year contract to teach English and reading in Kuwait.
When that job ended, Hill returned to the States and taught for two years. But her wandering spirit took hold again.
During an Internet search, she said, "A link took me to a teaching job on the Ringling Brothers circus train. Again, I thought, well, why not?"
She called that job "life changing."
For a year, home was a 9- by 6-foot room on the mile-long circus train.
"I taught out of a 5-by-5 wooden box with one computer, one scanner, the kids' books, a hands-on science curriculum and a small library," she said. "We did field trips when we could. It was an amazing experience."
Hill now teaches middle school special education in Louisiana while pursuing a teaching certification in that field.
"I think as a Christian I feel more supported than the average teacher," she said. "My prayer life helps me avoid burnout. My Christian support network from my church helps me make it through the long days of hard work. You can't always identify something as being the Lord's work except in hindsight. My teaching career and my life are a beautiful tapestry, threads woven from all these opportunities. My call has always been a journey. I believe if you love the work, it's got to be your calling. "
Lots of praying going on
Michael Rashon Adkins laughs when he says his principal calls their school the Missionary Baptist United Methodist Elementary School.
"We have so many Christians teaching here," he said. "There is lots of praying going on for Napier Elementary."
Napier is an inner-city elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Many of the children struggle with poverty-related issues.
A member of John Wesley United Methodist Church in Nashville, Adkins is in his ninth year as a teacher and now the lead teacher for second grade at Napier. He said he is blessed to teach in a school where many fellow teachers and administrators are also Christians.
"We pray for each other and for our students," Adkins said. "I have a lot of prayer support from my church, too. My church members are some of our school's best volunteers. My first lady (pastor's spouse) comes and reads to the children. She even dresses up in costume! It's fabulous. The children love it.
"My grandmother comes and prays over my room. Other members come and help me set up my room at the beginning of the year. They pray for me, for the children and for the school." Some have sponsored events for Napier.
Incorporating his faith into his teaching by his daily walk and talk is natural for Adkins. He believes the children see it.
"They know I go to church and am a Christian," he said. "Many of them go to church, and they like that I do, too. By law I can't bring up matters of faith, but the children can. When they do, I can certainly answer them truthfully. As long as the kids initiate it, we can pray."
One day a child came up to Adkins and told him that he didn't know how to pray.
"He brought it up," Adkins said. "I told him praying is easy; all he needs to do is close his eyes and just say what is on his heart. I told him he can just talk about any concerns and God would hear him."
Called away from the church
As an elementary school counselor, the Rev. Dayna Hauschild often walks the halls of Linwood Elementary in Wichita, Kansas. That's where she sees the children most.
"The majority of our kids have been through some kind of traumatizing event," she said. "Many live with domestic violence and drug violence. Because of trauma, they often have trouble staying on task and focusing on their work."
A deacon who attends East Heights United Methodist Church in Wichita, Hauschild was appointed to Linwood in 2014 after she earned her counseling degree. (Deacons find their own employment and then request appointment by the bishop.)
Before that, while serving as a Christian educator, she had parents "asking questions about how to help their kids. They had some specific challenges. As a result, I was doing lots of research on how to help these kids."
As a counselor, Hauschild is in a unique position to relate to the entire child's needs.
"In our school the counselor serves on a child study team, comprised of administration, teachers and social workers. We brainstorm on the kids' needs: academic, social and emotional."
She also provides support in the classrooms.
"On request (from the teacher), I will go help a student who is struggling so the teacher can go ahead and teach," she said. "I can support educationally and emotionally. Sometimes the child needs that one-on-one situation."
East Heights members support her with prayer and offer assistance when needed. The church is in a partnership with another local school and many members volunteer to support the staff and the children.
Hauschild said she hasn't started anything faith-based at Linwood, mainly because of the diversity at the school. About half of the students are Hispanic and most are low income.
Even so, she does incorporate God into her work.
"This may sound odd," she said, "but I believe God has a sense of humor, and I use that a lot with the kids. Laughter relaxes people. Maybe we will sit and color. We may talk. We may not. They may not have the vocabulary to tell me what they are feeling. We play games and use lots of relationship-building activities. I want the kids to feel safe."
Hauschild said that daily prayer on her own is crucial. "I have to be a person of prayer for these kids."
Polly House is a freelance writer and editor in Nashville, Tennessee, and editorial assistant for Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.