Meet Mr. Hoffman. This is Mr. Hoffman’s third year as our 5th grade teacher at The Cambridge School. He loves making the curriculum come to life for his students. So much so, that he grew one ‘glorious’ beard in order to embody, or incarnate, the historical figures his students are studying in Early American History this year. He told me that he does this for his students so that they may be able to visualize what John Smith, Miles Standish, William Bradford, and the Pilgrims looked like. It is that kind of enthusiasm, dedication and creativity that make our teachers the “living curriculum” at Cambridge.
I sat down with Mr. Hoffman in our school garden, the same garden in which his 5th grade class is growing new world crops to compliment the Early American history taught in the classroom. This is Mr. Hoffman’s story.
Me: Tell me a little about your educational and work background.
Mr. Hoffman: I graduated from Cedarville University with a double major in education and history. My original focus for teaching was middle school and high school. I taught American history, Chinese history and global cultures in China for four years.
Teaching those history classes reminded me about how much I wanted further my own understanding of history, especially church history. It was in my fourth year of teaching in China that I began looking into graduate programs that focused on church history and historical theology. I was interested in learning the Biblical languages as well. I decided on Westminster Seminary in Escondido, CA. I received my Master’s in Historical Theology from Westminster.[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]We are body and soul and we get to address those different areas in the classroom. It is much more encompassing than just teaching facts and content. I am not just teaching minds, but souls. The students are growing into who they are as people.[/quote]
Me: Why would someone with an advanced degree and such rich experience choose to teach 5th graders?
Mr. Hoffman: After graduating from Westminster Seminary, I wanted to get back into teaching in the classroom. While I was in Seminary, one of my professors talked a lot about Classical Education and its three stages: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. In fact, that is how he organized his class. It got me thinking that this was an interesting model for education. Coming from a modern educational perspective in my training, I realized that in my classes in China I had really started moving in a direction that was leaning towards classical education. I would organize my units around the basic facts for a couple of weeks, interact with those facts through discussion for a couple of weeks and then have the students produce posters, speeches or papers. It wasn’t until was in seminary and hearing those categories: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric that I thought, “That’s what I was doing!” I just didn’t have a name for it.
These experiences got me thinking that it would be great if there was a school that does this! Around that time I received an email advertising a teaching position at Cambridge. Prior to my interview with Jean Kim she sent me some reading material to explore. She asked me to read Dorothy Sayers’ essay: “The Lost Tools of Learning”. I was already introduced to Dorothy Sayers by my seminary professor so I was familiar with the concepts. It all made sense and was beginning to click. I thought, “Wow, Cambridge is a school that does this!” I was pleased to be hired and commissioned to teach 5th grade.
My experience was with middle and school students so I learned, and am still always learning, how to manage a 5th grade classroom. There is a lot happening at this age developmentally, in their minds and bodies- which is great! We are body and soul and we get to address those different areas in the classroom. It is much more encompassing than just teaching facts and content. I am not just teaching minds, but souls. The students are growing into who they are as people.
Me: If you could sum up Cambridge in one word, what would it be?
Mr. Hoffman: INTEGRATION – that brings together everything about Cambridge. I love the opportunities to collaborate with other teachers. I love when students ask at the end of lesson, “Where do I put this in my binder? Is it Bible, is it History, is Literature, is it Science, or is it Memory Work?” Everything is integrated. I love how our school looks for ways to purposefully bring subjects together. This is not only prompted by the administration, but it just naturally arises from the teachers. For example, Mrs. Perumal, our 4th – 6th assistant math teacher, thought of a way that we could integrate Carry On, Mr. Bowditch with math. (Nathaniel Bowditch was a famous mathematician during the colonial period.) Mrs. Perumal introduced math problems from the book to the class. That was exciting for the students.
We also see integration with our faith and learning as well. We can see God’s work in this world, the revelation of his Son, and Christ in His Word. Conversations automatically arise as these subjects are integrated into the classroom in natural ways. For example, during composition, one of the topics we were dealing with was boasting and my question to the class was, “Why do people boast?” One student said, “Well, people boast because they feel great about themselves.” Another student said, “Well, I think sometimes people boast because they don’t feel good about themselves.” There was a conversation that evolved out of these statements. We were then led back to a memory piece that we were working on that states, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. We discussed how Jesus was not proud, but came to serve. That led into further discussion of how God repeatedly, throughout Scripture, opposes proud people and exalts the humble, primarily in the example of his Son, Jesus. To see that whole conversation naturally arise out of a composition assignment was exciting. Again, it’s not just the subjects that get integrated, but faith, Christianity, Christ and the Gospel are also woven into all we do. It’s both head and heart. It is not just an academic exercise, but we help students apply what they are learning to their lives. I have seen growth in the students. I see them not rushing to be the first in line, I see them helping someone who’s dropped something, not being proud, but seeking ways to serve and help others. That is the head and heart integration that I witness taking place in my students’ lives.
I love the opportunities to collaborate with other teachers. I love when students ask at the end of lesson, “Where do I put this in my binder? Is it Bible, is it History, is Literature, is it Science, or is it Memory Work?” Everything is integrated.
Welcome to the CAMBRIDGE COLLOQUY, our most recent blog series at The Cambridge School.
- a conversation
Simple conversations are often the catalysts for great stories. Words shared are symbolic of lives shared. The Cambridge Colloquy is our way of saying, “Come, let’s share the stories of our values, our school and our lives together.” We hope that you will be inspired and want to enter into the story as well.