What’s one way Christian parents can engage with the public school system?

An interview with two substitute teachers

February 12, 2020

I began substitute teaching in our school district last fall, having been encouraged by two friends to try it out. Like many who work as substitutes, I pursued it because it allowed me to be home with my children and to work a flexible schedule. It has been both more challenging and more rewarding than I had imagined. Walking into a new classroom, I never know what I will encounter. Are the kids going to be respectful? Will we have safety drills? What discipline issues will crop up? What heartbreaking information will a child share with me? 

Over time, I have grown to see this job as a ministry to my community. And, as with any ministry, I need mentors who will share from their own experience and help me do this job well. To that end, I have asked my friends who have been subbing for several years to share about their experience substitute teaching and why they believe more Christians should consider taking on this role. Melanie Coppenger is married to Jed and has three children. They live in Franklin, Tennessee, where Jed pastors Redemption City Church. Jen Brewer is married to Jeff and has four daughters. They live in Wheaton, Illinois, where Jeff pastors Hope Fellowship Church. 

Catherine Parks: Will you share about one of your most rewarding days as a sub?

Melanie Coppenger: I wouldn’t say there is a day that stands out above the rest, but it’s more certain moments. Like when I am subbing in the elementary school and I walk in to start the day, it means so much to me to have all kinds of little kiddos running up to me and giving me a hug and being so excited to see “Mrs. C!” Or it’s having a breakthrough with a kid whom I have spent so much time discipling, seeing them be respectful or look me in the eye or have self control in an area they struggle in. Or it’s having the kids come in the class, see that I’m their sub, and say, “Oh yay, it’s you!”

CP: Will you share about one of your most challenging days?

Jen Brewer: I don’t have a specific day, but there are a few things that can make a day a challenge. When students are unmotivated and don’t care to participate or do their assignments, that can be frustrating. There is also a lack of respect for adults and authority figures, as well as fellow classmates. Because of these challenges, I sometimes feel like I have overlooked many capable and/or quiet students because they didn’t require much attention or oversight during the day.

MC: I’ve had a handful of challenging days. Some have been challenges with other staff and not feeling welcomed in the school. Some have been particular children. But one in particular happened recently. I was in a classroom that I’ve subbed in several times and knew all the students and teacher very well. That day, there was a boy who just had zero self control over his emotions. Another boy in the class took it upon himself to make sure he irritated him the whole day, despite all my efforts to separate them from one another. Some kids in the classroom were getting so stressed that they started crying. I don’t think I effectively made it through any of the teaching instructions for the day. And then I ended the day with bus duty for the bus that arrived last. I’ve yet to return to that classroom!

CP: How do you view substitute teaching as a ministry? 

MC: I signed up as a substitute teacher when my youngest child went to kindergarten. I was wanting some type of work outside of the home, but needed it to be flexible and work with my kids' school schedules. When I first started subbing, I approached it as a way to make money that didn’t require a lot of commitment. When I took my first sub job it was working with two children with special needs. I wasn’t given a lot of background information on them, just their schedules for the day. I quickly realized I had no idea the depths of their needs and that I had taken a job way above my skill set. I decided that while I was caring for them that day, I would love on them the best I could because they are made in the image of God and that if I did that, the day was a success. 

Subbing will call you to continually praise God for teachers, aides, and staff, and to pray for them without ceasing.

Each job I took in my early days showed me more and more how most kids have a low level of respect for authority, don’t know how to look an adult in the eyes when they’re being spoken to, and some have a home life that would bring you to tears. I do approach my responsibility as a sub as a ministry. I pray for the jobs I take. I try and get to know the kids in each class I have. 

One of my goals each time I sub is that kids would understand better how to show respect to authority as well as to their friends and classmates. I try my best to be an encouragement to the other teachers who are working in the school I am in. And I try and leave the classroom in a place that will be helpful for the teacher when he or she returns to school. 

JB: Everything we do unto the Lord is a ministry, or at least worship unto him.  What a blessed privilege to be permitted to enter the schools and honorably serve these faithful, hardworking educators who show up each day, year after year.  What a joy to get to know the staff and to be able to show an interest in their lives as we interact with them each week. What a treasure to encourage, support, guide, and engage with the students as they do the job God has called them to do every Monday through Friday.  What a humbling, enlightening opportunity to understand what our own children experience so many hours every month. 

CP: How has substitute teaching changed you and changed the way you view schools, teachers, and students?

MC: Before substitute teaching, I had zero experience as a teacher. I volunteered as much as I could in my kids’ schools, so I had a pulse on their schools. I had frustrations and didn’t understand certain procedures. It’s safe to say my low view of teachers and how schools make decisions quickly changed! I spent most of the first few months subbing coming home super exhausted. Teachers work so hard and have some extremely complex issues they face with their students. They have standards to meet, plans to make, emails to answer, issues to deal with. Their jobs do not end when the last bell rings. I have greater compassion for them and try my best to be a source of encouragement and not frustration for them.

I also was enlightened to the strenuous pace of my kids’ school day. Whew. There is not a lot of social time for them, so I now understand why they are so chatty when I pick them up. I understand why my boys need to have play time when they get home. I try to be more sensitive to letting them unwind after school is over. 

JB: Subbing will call you to continually praise God for teachers, aides, and staff, and to pray for them without ceasing. They not only serve and love the children, but must also stay updated on all state standards, attend countless meetings, interact with families, and maintain their own home lives. I don’t know how they do it all. 

CP: What advice would you give to a new substitute teacher?

JB: Here are a few things:

My ongoing motto is “I can do anything for a day . . . or half a day.” Feel free to try any assignment in any school, and know that you can always decline it the next time if it doesn’t appeal to you.  

Remember that there are always many facets to each person and every situation. You can’t know what’s going on in each of their lives and can’t solve all their problems or heal all their wounds. Therefore, simply seek to be the light of Christ to each one with a comforting smile, an encouraging word, and a caring attitude. You can’t save the world (or a classroom) in a day, but you can be a beautiful representative of a loving Savior

Pray on the way to the school and in the classroom, especially before the students enter.  Don’t forget to reconnect in prayer with the Lord over lunch or during a break. 

CP: What would you say to a fellow Christian considering substitute teaching?

MC: I am always encouraging friends to start subbing at their local schools. It is a great way to work while being sensitive to your family schedule and needs. It definitely takes work while you are there subbing, but man, so many moments have been so worth it. And getting to see my kids throughout the day is such a gift. 

There is such a need for bright lights in the public school system. Kids are so hungry for adult attention, interaction, praise, and even instruction. You will definitely be sanctified in this role, but I know I would say it’s made me a better person.  

Catherine Parks

Catherine Parks writes and lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two children, and a cute dog named Ollie. She's the author of Empowered and Strong, collections of biographies for middle-grade readers. You can find more of her writing at cathparks.com Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24