The Craft of Christian Teaching

by John Van Dyk

Review by John Hallett

This book sets out to answer the need for a Christian approach to pedagogy presented in a style that makes it accessible to teachers at the beginning of their careers. Prior research had shown a real need for a text that looked specifically at the creation of a good learning environment and effective teaching methods. It had also shown that Christian perspectives on philosophy and curriculum theory were readily available.

The author deals in a homely, down to earth, way with 18 issues that commonly arise for young teachers as they begin to try to teach Christianly. The structure of the content is clearly laid out, the indexes and notes at the back of the book are full and helpful.

The style adopted is similar to that used in the author’s earlier book, Letters to Lisa (Dordt Press, 1997). The earlier book covered broadly similar content and took the form of a dialogue between the author, an education professor with 34 years of teaching experience, and his daughter Lisa, two years into teaching. It presented a series of exchanges on each of 22 issues. Here, a brief dialogue between Lisa and her colleagues sets the scene for the longer reflections that follow.

The scene is the Christian school in the US or Canada, rather than the state school, and some of the suggestions would not be appropriate or even workable in other settings. Transatlantic differences in terminology occur but as with the differences in teaching setting, they do not obtrude in a way that diminishes its value as a challenging reflective text for any Christian teacher who wants to teach well.

In several of the discussions, Van Dyk gives a rough critique of the positions commonly held on each issue and the slogans associated with them. There appears to be an intention to achieve completeness in this that this reviewer found a little tedious but it could be found helpful by a student wanting to survey the scene.

There is a welcome willingness to say clearly and unambiguously what action could be tried in particular situations. Generations of students have left college with a feeling that their tutors had been tentative and vague where they most needed clarity. Very real obstacles to effective Christian teaching are faced with realism. The treatment of authority and responsibility I found to be particularly well-handled with the underlying rationale and day-to-day practical implications clearly inter-related. All the issues are real ones and all the reflections are marked by wisdom born out of years of experience.

I found, as with the earlier book, that I looked for, but did not find, discussion of the practical out-workings of Christian curriculum theory. Our understanding of the nature of, say, history or mathematics affects the manner in which teaching is handled even with younger children and the theoretical treatments need a practical counterpart. This book only hints at this discussion and a fuller treatment is needed.

I would use this book with Christian students preparing to teach and teachers in the early stages of their teaching career.

John Hallett

(This review is adapted from one published in Journal of Education & Christian Belief, 5:2, Autumn 2001, pp. 161-2)