Invest in Future Generations: Secondary Education Majors View Teaching as Full-Time Ministry
As a fresh Grace graduate, Jon McDillon became the “hall dad” of Grace Gerber’s brother hall in Beta. The 22-year-old walked into Alpha for open-dorm hours and was invited by a bright-eyed Alpha resident (Grace) to be her Dutch Blitz partner. Jon kindly declined, explaining that he was color blind. But Grace — not competitive in nature — urged him to play anyway. Much to their surprise, the partners dominated that night. Jon claims to this day that he knew Grace was the one because she was the first person to ever invite him to play a color-based game. A few years later, the two got married. They’ve been using their secondary education majors to serve the Lord together ever since.
We met with the McDillons to ask a few questions about how Grace’s English secondary education major and Jon’s mathematics secondary education major have brought them a challenging, yet fulfilling ministry.
How did you decide on a secondary education major?
Grace: I actually came to Grace undecided, and I didn’t land on a secondary education major until my sophomore year. But throughout high school, I loved school a lot. I went to a small private Christian school where I had the same three teachers for the entire time. They were really intentional about pouring into us and building relationships with us in and out of the classroom. They weren’t just educators, they were mentors. Their influence played a large role in my decision to become an educator.
Jon: Similar to Grace, I did not start my freshman year thinking that I would become a teacher. My first year of college, I went to Purdue University to study engineering. As my relationship with God began to transform my life, I decided to pursue something where I would have a unique impact on people’s lives, and many people recommended teaching. So I transferred to Grace to pursue secondary mathematics education and to learn more about how God reveals himself through his word.
What stands out to you about the training you received at Grace as a secondary education major?
J: One thing that I really value about Grace’s approach is how early and frequently they got us into the schools. There really is something about teaching that you just can’t learn until you are there doing it. My professors pushed me and the teachers I was observing to make sure hands-on experience was happening early and often.
G: The education program at Grace did a fantastic job of making sure that observation hours were a part of almost every education class — even in your very first class where you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into! But that was so valuable. Especially because I attended a private Christian school, I wasn’t very familiar with how public schools worked. The School of Education did a really great job of exposing me to the instructional practices and grading philosophy that was prevalent at that time. When I went into my first year of teaching, I felt like I knew what I was doing.
What was it like looking for a job right out of college as a secondary education major?
J: As a math teacher it was very easy to find a job, and I was very confident approaching graduation that I would find something immediately. My student teaching was at Warsaw Community High School right here in town. I knew that there was going to be an opening there, so I put in an application. Before I was even able to complete my application, I was contacted by my supervising teacher at Warsaw who wanted me to teach summer school. That basically became a month-long interview. So I didn’t even end up filling out a complete application, and by the end of the summer, I had the job!
G: I also did my student teaching at Warsaw High School, and while I was there, a principal and instructional coach at Lakeview School came to observe me. That proved to be so beneficial because when I applied there shortly after, they saw my application and already knew who I was and what my teaching style was like. Another helpful thing was a job fair with surrounding schools and schools all around the country. I had the opportunity to interview with five to six different schools that day.
What prompted you to move to Taiwan, and what did your time there entail?
J: We moved to Taiwan as missionaries with Send International teaching at an international Christian school called Morrison Academy. We had both been interested in going into missions for quite some time. So, over Warsaw’s fall break, we decided to go to Grace’s Conference on Missions week. We talked to several of the mission agencies that were there, and we found that there is a huge need for educators on the mission field. Many missionaries struggle to find good education for their children while overseas, and so they end up leaving before they can really do any work.
G: I taught English, Bible, and theatre, and Jon taught high school and middle school math, physical science, physics, and robotics. We both coached a lot of sports as well. It was a small school, so it was easier to plug in and build relationships pretty quickly in a lot of different areas.
J: As teachers, we were able to be their teachers, disciplers, coaches, cheerleaders, counselors, and friends.
G: We went in with the plan to be “missionaries to the missionaries.” But many of our students at Morrison were not Christians, and so we ended up being evangelists as well. Day by day, we were able to show our students the lives of Christians. And many kids do come to know the Lord. He’s using Morrison for his glory.
After your two years abroad, what was it like to transition back to the states?
J: We both got plugged right back into the schools that we were at before, and we both had jobs before we even left Taiwan. That kind of job security is just not present for most fields.
What is next for each of you? And how is your secondary education major serving you in this season?
G: I’m pregnant and transitioning into becoming a stay-at-home mom. Having teaching experience as a mom is helpful for many reasons: realizing the importance of literacy, knowing what my children will experience going into school, understanding the dynamic between a teacher and parent. Being a teacher provides a good perspective on parenthood.
J: A year after coming back to the states, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Applied Statistics at Purdue University, and that’s where I am right now. My background with teaching and my secondary education major at Grace opened the door for me to accept a TA position which has provided free tuition and a stipend. After I earn my degree, I could see myself returning to Warsaw High School to teach dual-credit and AP courses, working as an adjunct professor at a local college, or even pursuing a job at an orthopaedic company.
What do you love about secondary education?
J: Being a teacher is a love-hate relationship. It takes so much time, effort, and work. But there truly is a unique opportunity to pour into the lives of these kids for 180 days a year. They legally have to show up every day. There are few other opportunities where people get to see you live your life so closely. At the end of the week, I have invested 80 hours of ministry in the lives of 100-300 students — that far surpasses 40 hours of work where all I have to show for it is a nice paycheck.
G: I know it sounds cliché — but I love the kids. Just last night, I took one of my former students out to supper. Secondary education allows you to get to know some of the coolest young people on the planet. Sure, there are tough days, but there are a lot of days where I leave school and I say, “These kids are awesome, and they’re really smart, and we’re going to be okay.” It’s special to get to pour into them — especially if they want to be poured into. The kids that I taught my first year are now freshmen in college; I’ve written recommendation letters for them, I’ve been invited to graduation parties, I’ve taken some out for breakfast. There are just some kids that you form a really strong connection with, and God allows you to pour into their lives long after they leave your classroom. You don’t always see fruit, but sometimes God lets you see how He’s working and that’s really cool.
Who is a secondary education degree ideal for?
J: Secondary education is ideal for anyone who is looking to wholeheartedly, selflessly, and thanklessly invest in the lives of God’s children.
G: A secondary education major is ideal for people who are willing to make teaching a full-time ministry. I don’t think that any teacher who is really devoted ever actually leaves the classroom. And you have to be prepared for that.
J: It’s not even something that you just have to worry about for the semester or school year. I still pray for some of my students from the very first year I taught. Your students get to you. And at least for me — it’s for the better. When I told my students we were moving to Taiwan, I cried, and they cried. And when I told my students in Taiwan that we were moving back to the US, I cried and they cried. I tell all of my students on the first day of class, “I don’t yet, but by the last day of the school year, I am going to love each and every one of you.”
G: It’s not for the faint of heart. Secondary education majors have to be all-in.
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