When your faith conflicts with your vocation, you may feel tension.
A couple of years ago, Dr. Heidi Hadley, assistant professor of English at Missouri State University, studied the tensions that evangelical Christians experienced in their roles as language arts teachers.
“As a teacher, your job is to welcome and affirm every student’s identity in your classroom,” Hadley said. “Some things we taught (in the teacher education program) would run up against some of the things they were taught religiously about gender and sexuality. I was interested in the tension they had to be feeling, even though we never talked about it.”
Her study involved teachers evaluating situations in which they found themselves hesitating to respond to students – or “places they felt they had to make a difficult choice because they felt torn between their religious and teacher identities.
“Then we would come together and talk about, ‘In the choice that you made, who were you privileging? Which identity of yours were you drawing on for your decision here?’”
Hadley recently published the findings from her research. It’s a book titled, “Navigating moments of hesitation: Portraits of evangelical English language arts teachers.”
Religious identity playing a role in classroom
The participants attributed other moments of hesitation to their religious identities. For example, they questioned how to be fair and merciful in their interactions with students.
They also attributed their love for their students and the passion for the job to being correlated to their faith.
“The way they loved kids, their sense that this was a calling, their sense of leadership – they said it was influenced by their experiences in their evangelical communities,” Hadley said. “Those were positive things they felt they were drawing on for their work as teachers.”
How it influences her work
When she works with university students who are studying to be teachers, she likes to introduce the conversation of how religious identity affects teaching choices in the classroom.
She opens up about her religious identity and her journey, which she believes helps her students examine their own.
“Being open allows them to think about, ‘What are the commitments that my religion and my religious identity are asking me to make? And is that compatible with the job of a teacher?’”
And sometimes it isn’t, Hadley said.
“I don’t want people to be in the profession who don’t have the goal of affirming all the kids who walk into their classrooms.”