Allison Hayden (AH) interviewed Kathryn Knights (KK) to find out what authentic Christian education looks like in the 4th Grade classroom.
AH: So just start off talking a little bit about what got you into teaching, why you wanted to teach elementary, and then what brought you to Bethesda?
KK: I teach because I have a passion to watch students learn and grow. I really enjoy having an impact on the future generation, specifically in a spiritual way. It's a neat opportunity we have at Bethesda, to be able to impact a child's life for eternity.
Originally, I had applied to public schools and I thought that was where my passion was, but God had opened the doors for Christian education and an opportunity to teach in a private school setting.
After interviewing at Bethesda, I really felt that this was where God wanted me to be. It’s been amazing to openly share Biblical truth with students, be able to pray with them, have a deeper relationship with them and to be able to further use that to discipline the kids and guide them in their everyday choices.
AH: So, I know you went to Taylor… when did you know you were going to be an elementary teacher?
KK: In high school, I was able to do a cadet teaching placement, similar to Bethesda’s cadet program here. This program was when I knew I just love being in the classroom and love working with children. I love their innocent minds and being able to shape them and help them to grow, and to be an encouragement in their life.
So, I entered into Taylor, knowing that I wanted to do elementary education.
AH: Now, you're from Chicago (woot!): were you wanting to stay in the Indianapolis area or were you kind of looking all over the place?
KK: Well, I had looked at schools in Chicago and I had also looked at schools here. I decided to leave the door open to where God wanted me. I ended up having more opportunities here in Indiana, and my teaching license was from Indiana.
But, originally, I didn't technically apply for Bethesda but I applied for a public school in the area and a leader from there (who had since moved to Bethesda) remembered me and called me back. That was how I knew: “Okay, God, You want me in a private school setting.” Here I was trying to steer away from private schools, and God brought me back here.
With my illness and everything, I ended up really feeling loved by all the staff here, all of the families here, and just had such a great support system that I would not have had if I had chosen the public route. God had a plan and He knew what was best. I'm just glad He opened that door.
AH: And it led to you meeting your husband. It's funny – we both are Chicago girls who moved to Indiana and met our husbands here, which is really cool.
KK: Yeah, my life would have looked totally different if I had not been here.
AH: Talk a little bit about in your classroom. You know, I am impressed with every elementary teacher because you have to teach not just one area. As one who only taught social studies, I wonder, “Oh, how do you teach math and science and all that?”
We’ve tried to post on social media about some of the great things you guys are doing, but what are some ways you've incorporated rigorous or relevant aspects into your teaching?
We talk about our “4 R’s” – tell us about some ways you challenge students where they're at, but also give them real life, real-world experiences, things that are meaningful to them.
KK: I always start with the Indiana academic standards as the basis of my instruction for the different subject areas.
Then, one way that I incorporate rigor would be through my questioning for students. I try to incorporate higher level thinking questions and asking students why this is their answer. “What do you think would happen if?”, or “Let's compare this and contrast it with that.”
I also like to practice with students how to respond to a question. We've been working on restating the question in our answer and providing our answer with evidence.
A lot of times students won't always think to do that. So, I'll make them try again and to practice, whether that's orally or written. I try to place high expectations on the students so that they know this is what I expect - I'm not going to accept any answer that is not your best work.
I love to incorporate writing through the various subject areas. So, even in math, “Let's write and explain how you got to this answer” or, in reading, “Let's write a new ending to the story” or “Let's write about a new character of this story. If this story had a different character that you created, how would that make the story different or what would that look like?” My goal is to incorporate more thinking and creativity into their learning.
And then, specifically, applying it to the real world. I mean, math is a little bit easier because we do fractions and we can talk about how we cook and bake with fractions - or we can use decimals with money. Our problem solving in math - a lot of the story problems - are based on real world examples.
In science, we do a lot of projects and experiments. We learned a lot about the environment this year and I had the students come up with ways that they could take actions to be able to help the environment. They created a brochure and were able to try to influence others to take action as well.
The students also were able to create their own inventions out of recyclable materials to teach them how to reuse things for good. So that was them being able to problem-solve and think of ways themselves that they could actually have an influence.
In my overall classroom structure, I incorporate a classroom economy. I'm trying to teach my students how to be responsible with money. It's interesting because many students come in and they have no idea what the word "debt" means. So, we talk about that and how you can't spend what you don't have!
My students can earn money through their classroom jobs, but they can also be fined for missing work or not doing their job. So, students can learn about debt very quickly.
It's a very beneficial skill because I teach them, “You have to keep track of your own classroom money. It's your responsibility.” So, in fourth grade, they're able to take on more ownership in that. And it's also a good way to keep them motivated and interested because money management is an important life skill to have.
AH: That's awesome. That's giving them a taste of personal finance and real-world consequences, like: if you don't go to work, you don't get paid.
And when you look at the data in the United States, the average American is in debt of $40,000, which is crazy, so it’s great that you’re trying to teach them early how to be responsible.
I know every class through all of elementary has a specific Bible class component and obviously, in the upper school they take Bible as a class, but I know that, beyond that, you're incorporating Biblical integration and the Christian worldview throughout your curriculum. It's not just that 20 minutes or 30 minutes beginning of the day. So, what are some ways you do that?
KK: As far as a Biblical worldview, we try to base everything we learn on God's truth and go back to God's Word with whatever we're learning. I try to ask my students, “Okay, we learned about this. How could this apply to God's truth or God's Word?”
My students have asked really good questions lately, especially in science class, and they have an awareness of, you know, “Okay, we read this, now let's bring it back to what God's word says about this.”
They've been asking really deep questions and I think at the fourth-grade level, they're just very curious about their world. Some of them grew up going to church their whole lives and some of them are newer to the faith, but they all have various questions. So, it's been really interesting.
My favorite way to incorporate Biblical truth is through discipline and explaining that these are not my rules. These are God's standards and this is what God expects of those of us who call ourselves Christians. And these are character traits God wants to see in us, and we can base those traits on Scripture: things like kindness, integrity, respect for authority. And just reminding students God is the ultimate judge of our actions and we will have earthly consequences, but we will be judged again someday.
I'm just reminding students of those truths and encouraging them to live for God and explaining that we want to do our work for the Lord, not for man. That's why we work hard in school. We try our best because it's for God. My goal is to point them in that direction throughout everything we do.
AH: That's awesome. Now, as you are wrapping up your year, you're preparing them for fifth grade and then beyond fifth grade, but what are some desires and hopes you have for your kids as they leave your room and transition next door and then eventually to high school and on?
What are you hoping to see in the outcome of their lives? What are some skills or things you hope that they've acquired as they prepare for the next step?
KK: I desire for my students first and foremost, to be able to know God's truth and to be able to apply that truth to their lives. Teaching them how we can pray, how we can talk to God, how to read God's Word and bring that into what we do.
Of course, being a Christian educator, my greatest desire is for my kids to have that personal relationship with Jesus and come to know the Lord.
But I also desire for them to just try their best in everything they do and to not give up. I’m really big on the growth mindset approach. I always tell them, “You all are capable of learning and growing. You just need to train your brain.”
In the first week of school, we talk a lot about mistakes and how they can help us grow, and that we can learn from our mistakes.
We’re all sinners. We all make mistakes every day, but it's what we do with those mistakes.
Then, we can use mistakes to develop our critical thinking skills. We can say, “Why did this happen? How can I do it differently next time?” And teaching kids to persevere through that.
So, I'm hoping to develop that mindset in them, that we are lifelong learners.
I'm still learning with them, and especially as a Christian, you're never perfect in your faith. You're never done. We're always growing. The same is true with our learning. We're constantly building and growing and learning and I just hope they can carry that mindset with them, that positive mindset, that they are capable of succeeding no matter where they started from because we're just growing and training our brains.
AH: Yes, and, definitely, as you said before, teaching them how to ask good questions is so, so important. That skill cannot be honed enough - being able to ask questions and then present evidence for what you believe.
It may be something inconsequential, like your views on what is the greatest movie, or it might be something much more substantial, like why we believe the Bible, but teaching them to think critically and provide evidence is so valuable.
In high school, they're learning that and they're trying to shape their faith and own it, not as something that their parents taught them only, but owning it themselves so that when they leave their parents that they have a solid foundation.
So, I love that. I love hearing that at the elementary levels they're getting those skills and being trained in that. So, thank you very much for talking with us today!