By Dr. Brad Dolloff, Guest Author
As head of a classical Christian school, I could not be more thrilled my oldest child has started a career as a classical Christian school teacher. He graduated from School of the Ozarks, the school I helped found on the campus of College of the Ozarks, went on to study at John Brown University (where he studied under Jessica Hooten Wilson) for his undergraduate degree, then completed a master’s degree from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) in Theology and the Arts. He is now in his first year of teaching as an upper school humanities teacher at Classical School of Wichita. As I anticipated his return from Scotland and his first days as an educator, I began to reflect on all the things I wish someone had told me when I accepted my first teaching assignment 36 years ago. Consequently, I took the time to write him a letter containing what I pray will be fruitful advice as he seeks to cultivate wisdom and virtue in the lives of young students. After completion, I wondered if other educators, those in their first year or even those with more experience, might benefit from the contents of that heartfelt message. What follows is a post, in the form of a letter to my son. Perhaps now that school has been in session for almost a month, we could use some encouragement. I pray this letter may do just that.
Dear Son (on your first year of teaching),
As you begin your first year as a teacher, I want you to know how proud I am that you have chosen (or maybe rather have been called) to perhaps one of the most noble professions on earth. I love that Jesus’s disciples frequently addressed him as “teacher!” Too often, we think of the most influential professions as those who make a lot of money, stand in front of a lot of people, or serve somewhere in government. I’m sure you recall the day in high school when you first told me you thought you wanted to teach, and I reacted as though you had decided to become a drug dealer, or at least settle for something less than what God had so graciously gifted you to do. J You might also remember that I jokingly said I pictured you as President of the United States, or at least a Senator!
However, God has gifted and called many to walk daily with young lives, helping the parents instill wisdom and virtue into the eternal souls God has entrusted to them. Politicians can be influential on policy, pastors can motivate congregations, but teachers walk alongside their pupils daily, fulfilling (or failing to fulfill) the commandment in Deuteronomy 6 to talk about God’s love and plan for us “as we go along the way.” I indeed believe it is a calling on one’s life…one that should not be taken lightly. You can see, and are actually a part of, the intimate influence Jesus had on just a small circle of people.
As I thought about your first year, I just happened to run across an article that encouraged people to journal or write a letter whenever they were feeling emotional or experiencing strong feelings in life. The author said once you lay it all out on paper, it’s easier to talk to God about it. I have been thinking about your calling as a Christian teacher, so I decided to write you this letter. There are many thoughts in my mind from excitement to pride (the right kind) and gratitude. With that in mind, here are some things from an old teacher (or let’s just say lots of experience) I think might help you.
It’s okay to be nervous. In fact, you should be! James instructs us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James is obviously addressing those who teach the Word of God, but since you are teaching at a Christian school (even if you were a math teacher like “dear old dad”), you are giving Biblical instruction. However, you need not be paralyzed with nervousness, because He has equipped you for the task. Hebrews 13:20-21 says:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen!”
“Put on your own oxygen mask first!” You have flown enough lately and heard that speech enough times to know what it means! It is impossible to help someone else if you are not healthy. Luke tells us in his Gospel, chapter 5, verses 15 -16 “But now even more the report about him abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places to pray.” Some translations even say “He withdrew frequently to pray…” I have no doubt God has gifted you in ways that students will be drawn to you and want to listen to you. I further believe that God will use you to influence others in a broader sense through your rhetorical abilities to speak and write in a compelling fashion. Make sure your tank is full first (mixing metaphors) and others will be able to draw from you. I’m sure you have seen the most influential educators and mentors in your life have been able to pour into you because of the depth of their relationship with Christ.
You are actually the curriculum! Mark 3:14 says “He chose twelve to be with him…” (emphasis mine). Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40) Of course there is a written curriculum that you will use as a guide, and you will bring in various other sources. However, the students learn as much or more from doing life with you as they will from the written curriculum. When a student is asked, “How do you like school,” they frequently get an image in their mind of a teacher or two that form their opinion of school. Finally, I would remind you that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. As you “walk along the way” (Deuteronomy 6) with your students, you will inevitably fall short at times. That’s O.K.! One of the biggest errors I made as a first-year teacher was practicing ahead of time the math problems I would demonstrate on the board so I wouldn’t make a mistake in front of the students. Amazingly enough, when I went on a ski trip with students later that year, and they saw me wiping out like the rest of them, it was reported that “Mr. Dolloff is almost human!” Through that experience and conversations with other experienced teachers, I came to realize that I was causing students to miss out on learning a very important skill: how to recognize when one has made a mistake and what to do to correct it. When I quit practicing the demonstrated problems ahead of time, students got to see how I came to the realization I had made an error (or they were able to point it out to me) and what I did to correct it. By extension, I’m sure you can see the spiritual implications of confession (1 John 1:9) and repentance. Acts 13 reminds us, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
One of the most effective ways to identify areas for repentance or improvement is to seek out a mentor or mentors. You are gifted in so many ways, but often there is no substitute for experience. Experienced educators can “see around corners” because they have likely traveled the same or a similar road. It is helpful to have more than one mentor as different teachers and coaches have different skill sets. Additionally, it is sometimes wise to get more than one perspective. “Without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) In 2 Timothy 3:10 -11, Paul writes to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings…” Sometimes it is easier to learn from other people’s mistakes or go to school on their putt, so to speak. Beau Abernathy used to say “live and learn” is an old expression, but not God’s design for us. His desire if for us to learn and then live accordingly.
One of the valuable lessons I have learned is to be willing to admit when you don’t know something. If a student asks a question that you’re not sure about, it is fine to respond by saying, “That’s a great question! I’m not quite sure about that, but give me some time to research and I promise to get back to you. In the meantime, you could seek out the answer as well, and we will compare notes.” Your humility will serve as an excellent example to your students. Paul said he would gladly boast in his weaknesses “so Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Finally, you can always call your father! I could not begin to count the number of times I called my dad because I wasn’t sure what to do. I frequently wish I could still call him to ask for advice. I still occasionally forget and think, “I should call Dad,” even though his faith became sight more than five years ago. His godly wisdom was extremely helpful on numerous occasions, and sometimes the best wisdom was similar to that of King Jehoshaphat who humbly turned to God and said, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you!” (2 Chronicles 20:12) That is the main reason I phrased this last piece of advice using the word “father.” If your earthly father knows how to give good gifts to you, “how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for him?” (Luke 11:13)
I pray for you daily and am so excited about the number of lives you will impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)
Dr. Brad Dolloff has served as head of school (Dean of the Lab School) at School of the Ozarks, a classical Christian K-12 laboratory school of College of the Ozarks, since it opened in 2012. Prior to accepting the position as Headmaster of School of the Ozarks, Dr. Dolloff served in public education as a mathematics teacher, coach, and school administrator. His experience in education spans more than three decades. Additionally, he serves on the teaching team at First Baptist Branson and as a member of South Central Missouri FCA board of directors.
Dr. Dolloff’s educational background includes a Doctor of Education from Southwest Baptist University in 2022, Specialist in Education (Educational Administration) from Missouri State University in 2011, an Administrative Certification (M.A. in school leadership program) from Baker University in 2002, Master of Science in education from Southwest Missouri State University in 1993, and a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics teaching from Bethany College in 1986.
He has been married to his wife, Dee, for over thirty years, and they have two children. Coby, their oldest, is completing a Masters in Theology and the Arts from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Their daughter Leah is a senior in college, majoring in English. In addition to spending time with family, Brad enjoys coffee with friends and loved ones, the outdoors, hiking, and exploring God’s creation or any destination that requires a Jeep to reach it.