I’m sitting at a coffee shop at the end of a very full week of teaching fifth grade at a classical Christian school, thinking about how grateful I am for this job, this school. My students are not angels—they’re actually kind of a handful—and I don’t get paid a whole lot. Nevertheless, the job satisfaction is very high because of what I get to teach and how I get to teach it.
At a classical Christian school, the table is set daily with the riches of Western Civilization—the epic stories of Greece and Rome, stories of Aeneas and Achilles and Agamemnon; the Fall of Rome and the onslaught of the barbarian invaders, the adventures of the saints and martyrs of early Christianity, the upheavals that convulsed Europe as men fought over kingdoms and rights and reformations; the age of exploration and discovery and the conquest of a New World, and the establishing of a new nation based on principles of reasonable political governance, the tumultuous clash of interests and cultures during the Industrial Revolution, the Communist Revolution, and the two World Wars, and the study of the art, music, and literature that both led to and sprang from all of these men and events. A classical education offers the wonderful but rare opportunity for teachers actually to bring lessons of substance to students, and to expect a lot from them.
The other aspect of my job that brings such great satisfaction is the methodology of the Trivium—Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. As the first of the seven liberal arts, they form the foundation of all learning, and in recent years have been utilized in conjunction with the natural abilities of children at three important stages of maturity and ability—the years of imitation and memorization (1st-6th grade), the years of challenging and reasoning (7th-9th grades), and the years of drama and self-expression (10th-12th grades). They also correspond to the Biblical ideas of knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
Being a Grammar school teacher, I spend most of my days teaching the foundations of the Three R’s. My students memorize, recite, practice, review, write, and rewrite. I help them learn that thoroughness and excellence are not optional, that working through frustration will yield the satisfaction of a job well done, and that they are capable of much more than they ever imagined.
They learn the important lesson that grades are not a reward for effort, nor are they the measure of their value, but that they serve as way for them to gauge their progress and determine where they need to focus their attention and effort. We set goals, as individuals and as a class, in areas of character and academics, because without a destination in mind the journey tends to be aimless.
I don’t know what the future of my students will be, but I believe that it will be the richer for their having read Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island and Johnny Tremain, memorized poetry and scripture, and learned the chronology and history of thirty-two events from Prince Henry the Navigator in the early 1400’s to the Missouri Compromise in the mid-1800’s. I’m helping to lay a firm foundation in the lives of human beings—what could be more satisfying?