Every Student, Every Classroom, Everywhere: How Cornerstone University Prepares Future Educators for Future Success
Educators have a unique calling. Not only do they develop and teach curriculum, but they become a guiding star in the lives of their students. Sometimes, a teacher is the only constant in a student’s life. Teachers are both an instructor and a mentor. They can wear many hats on any given day: counselor, social worker, first responder. The training educators go through is rigorous, and the payoff is not always immediate.
Today’s primary and secondary education teachers face unprecedented challenges. An article in USA Today from June 2023 cited frequent student absences, substitute teacher shortages, and job-related stress at record-high levels as just a few challenges that educators face post-COVID.
Teacher education students at Cornerstone University are trained for the landscape in today’s schools. They are equipped to demonstrate God’s love and the friendship of Jesus Christ, no matter what school setting they are called to serve.
This training is by design. This year, Cornerstone transitioned its Teacher Education Division into the School of Education & Human Services, with Dr. Kimberly Hofstra (Ed.D. ’21) as its inaugural dean. Leadership at Cornerstone is ready to meet the demands of 21st-century higher education and grow the availability of resources and programs available for students in West Michigan and around the country.
For Hofstra, providing students with what they need has been her prerogative from day one, ever since she started at Cornerstone in 2018. As dean of the school, she is more passionate about her students’ success than ever before.
“We have a really strong faculty at Cornerstone that pours into our students,” Hofstra said. “We try to simulate what their future classrooms could look like. We’re very intentional about being relational with our students — if you don’t, they won’t have as much motivation to learn.”
The reality is school doesn’t happen in a vacuum for most students. They enter the classroom with their own burdens, whether those are familial, socioeconomic or even psychological. And future educators have to be prepared to face these challenges alongside their students in order to help them grow.
“It’s not just a job,” Hofstra said. “It has to be a calling from God.”
Teacher education students understand this profound calling. Garrett Langton (B.A. ’24) is a current student in the School of Education & Human Services, focusing on elementary education and language arts. Last semester, he completed his teacher assistant practicum at East Rockford Middle School. Because of his education at Cornerstone, he fully understands that the vocation he’s been called to is more than a paycheck — and he has the power to make an impact on students’ lives and faith.
“Even though I may not teach at a Christian school, Cornerstone has taught me I can still show Christ to my students simply by how I treat my students,” Langton said. “When I remember that each student is made in the image of God, it helps me become more forgiving to students, more helpful, and more passionate about teaching. Even if I can’t pray for students in the classroom, I can still pray for them outside of class. I can still model Jesus’ virtues by being honest with them, discovering more about them, and using language that builds them up.”
Educators have a unique calling. The call of Christian educators, even more so. Students like Langton are why Hofstra is so passionate about showing the love of Christ in every classroom. She spent 25 years in public schools before she was asked to join the faculty at CU. The transition was jarring, Hofstra admitted, but now she couldn’t imagine teaching at a public university.
“That’s just a part of who I am as an educator,” she said. “Cornerstone is where I need to be teaching, where I can openly talk about how Christ has worked in my own heart when working with students.”
Her teacher assistant practicum focuses deeply on this very subject. While most of the teaching in the practicum is hands-on knowledge for current student teachers, Hofstra weaves in Christian worldview. In between understanding methods like the Danielsen assessment and topics like blood-borne pathogen training, she incorporates the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“We need to pray and study God’s Word,” Hofstra said, reflecting on the previous semester she taught the course. “We’re serving others. We’re interacting with others. We’re opening up and talking about God in our everyday lives.”
Sometimes those classroom discussions can become difficult — especially in a time when division is all too common, and cultural topics like critical race theory, gender identity, and abortion are discussed inside and outside the classroom. These discussions quickly get heated and can cause more division. That, Hofstra said, is where Christ’s love can shine through the most.
“Christian educators will come into contact with a lot of things that don’t align with their Christian worldview,” Hofstra said. “We need to be willing to talk about difficult subject matters. Some Christians are viewed as ‘haters.’ That’s simply not the case. It’s our responsibility as educators to come alongside our students and their parents, even if we don’t agree with them or their choices.”
After all, Hofstra said, humans have an innate desire to belong.
Educators have a unique calling. The call of Christian educators, even more so. But Christian educators also have a unique opportunity — to share the good news that Jesus Christ is our greatest friend. That He is a provider for the needy. That He is a father to the fatherless, a brother to the brotherless. That He is comfort in times of anxiety, fear and division. And that He seeks and saves those who are lost and lonely.
Whether in everyday actions or extraordinary acts, Christian educators can model Christ to every student, in every classroom, everywhere.