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Lamplighter Extra Spring 2018: Planting Seeds

Lamplighter sat down with three recently retired faculty members to reflect on their teaching careers at Dock, and their role as "seed planters"—instilling in students a love of learning, a love for the world around them, a love for others.

 

If you have not yet read the Lamplighter article, you can click the image (left) to go to the Spring 2018 issue. But there were two questions we asked of our three teachers that we did not have room to publish in the Spring issue:

  1. How did you come to teach at Dock?
  2. What changes have had the most significant impact on you, on students, and on the campus community during your years at Dock? What change do you hope for this community to embrace moving forward?

There are some wonderful stories in their responses:

 

How did you come to teach at Dock?

Dr. Bishop

I actually applied to Dock as a safety net.  Because Linda still had two more years of schooling at Eastern Mennonite, I was hoping to get a teaching job in the Harrisonburg area, and I did apply to the Rockingham County School District because I had done my student teaching at Turner Ashby H.S., which is in that district.  They did call me for an interview, but by that time I had signed a contract to teach at Dock.

I hesitated to apply for a teaching position at Dock because rumor had it that there were going to be two openings in the English department for the 1978-70 school year and that four people had already applied, one of them having a master's degree.  I didn't think I even had a distant shot at filling one of those openings.  Once I did get hired at Dock, my good friend David Greiser (C '73) said to me:  "Congratulations for starting at the top!"  That was how it felt to me, as well.

I also felt that I had some unfinished business with Dock because I only had the benefit of attending my senior year, (73-74).  That was such a rich, affirming, transformative and all-around invigorating year for me, and it ended much too soon.  I think wanting to come back to Dock was my attempt to recapture and even relive some of what I loved so much as a student.  Sometimes, when I was home on break from college, I would drive through the campus, late at night, and reminisce.

This photo of Dr. Bishop, published in the Spring 2018 issue of Lamplighter, was taken by Jon Styer—at that time a photographer for Eastern Mennonite University. Jon's father Alan was a classmate of Dr. Bishop's at Dock.

 

Señor Eldon Miller

I graduated from Bethany Christian High School Goshen, IN, with little thought of going to college, and certainly, no thought of teaching. I worked as a mechanic for a year, but always had this desire to see other places and work at issues beyond my own life; to get to know life and cultures “out there.” And so, being a conscientious objector to war, I volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee in the PAX program in Bolivia for several years. A book could be written about the impact of that experience on my life and value system. Suffice it to say, it completely changed my worldview and my priorities.

After I returned home, I soon realized that integrating back into life in the US collided greatly with my Bolivian experiences and what I had seen, and experienced, and learned. And so, I became a student at Eastern Mennonite College (now University). I was five years older than my classmates, but most of them never knew that fact; which perhaps reflects somewhat poorly on my level of maturity!

I loved college, and embraced expanding my knowledge on many issues and subjects. I participated in a number of extracurricular activities, mainly singing groups and Spanish Club activities. I worked part time in the Audio-Visual Department. I dabbled in several majors before I realized that I loved Spanish, which I had learned in Bolivia. I soon found that studying Spanish as an academic major was much more challenging than just conversational Spanish. Reading essays and novels, participating in academic discussions, writing and defending thesis papers, all contributed to deepening my love for the language. 

At some point in my third year, I began to realize that probably no one was going to pay me to read Hispanic novels my whole life. And so, the question

Meeting wife Gem helped keep Eldon Miller "in the neighborhood."

once again became what next? A logical option was to teach, even though I had never seriously considered it. I took Education Certification classes, and did my student teaching at Broadway High School, in Broadway, VA. I loved it! It was hard work, but it was fun.

In the spring semester of my Senior year, I began sending resumes to a number of high schools, but hearing nothing. One day, there was an announcement on the bulletin board next to the Education Office, stating that Mr. Lee Yoder, Principal of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, was interviewing students for several positions, including one to teach Spanish and English, and be the Audio-Visual Coordinator. I did not think that I wanted to teach at a Mennonite school. I had attended Mennonite schools my whole life- elementary, high school and college. I loved VA and didn’t want to leave. And while I knew some Dock kids at college, they were generally not in my circle of friends. And so, I went back to my room.

Later that evening I thought, “What will it hurt to go talk with the guy?” I had not received any other job offers, I had a relationship with a young lady that wasn’t going anywhere, I had college debts, and I needed a job. Besides, I had sung in choir with Mr. Rod Derstine, and I knew Mr. Tim Ehst, both Dock grads, and they were pretty good fellows. And so, I met with Mr. Yoder the next day. He was charming, yet professional; he was persuasive, and he seemingly took no notice of my early ’70s hair and clothing styles, which contrasted sharply with his own. I later came to visit the impressive campus setting, and met the school board, who were equally welcoming.

As they say, the rest is history!

 

Rodney Derstine

I had been teaching for around nine years at Western Mennonite School in Salem, Oregon when I heard there was an opening at Christopher Dock. We had two very young children at the time, and the prospect of moving closer to family was appealing. Still, the prospect of moving to the opposite end of the country was quite daunting. I remember putting out a “fleece” thinking, 'If these three things come together, that will be confirmation that we should make the move.' Well, they all fell into place and we headed east. To jump back a bit, Elam Peachy and Noah Kolb came to Oregon to interview me for the position. I think it may have been Rachel’s cheese pie that sealed the deal.

 

 

What changes have had the most significant impact on you, on students, and on the campus community during your years at Dock? What change do you hope for this community to embrace moving forward? 

Dr. Bishop

I still marvel that when I started at Dock, the school had one (wet copy) photocopier.  Report cards were filled out by us teachers, in ink.  So, the breathless advances in technology blessed me as a teacher, but it also buried me because I just could not keep up with the demands that technology placed on us, even though up until about 2010, I was still using chalk and writing on slate, as they did in the 1600s.

I hope that the administration and faculty will continue to wrestle with what it means to identify itself as an Anabaptist-Mennonite Christian school, especially with the drastic changes in demographics surrounding the two campuses and the shifting clientele they serve.

 

Señor Miller

When I started my teaching career at Dock in 1973, all of the faculty and staff, and a high percentage of the students were Mennonite. Many of the students were from farm families. That is no longer the case. Most students are now non-Mennonite and some of the faculty also. While that can be troubling to some, I believe it has made Dock stronger and a better school. We have been introduced to a wide variety of religious thought and practice, and it has made each of us study and search our own hearts to know what we truly believe. I am happy that the school has continued to boldly proclaim itself to be a Christ-centered Anabaptist school with a global perspective.

Dock has also been a school that has adapted its teaching styles and curriculum to accommodate the ever-widening learning needs of the student body. Instead of a “one size fits all” philosophy, the school has made provisions for students across a wide spectrum of educational needs. I would add that, since I taught Spanish, which was an academic elective, I did not see the range of students that many teachers did; such as students who were already learning English as a second language, or were struggling in some other subject.

Students have also changed in how they express the own faith. A greater percentage of students are willing to share openly in chapel and other group settings, their own faith story in word and in song, including their questions and doubts.

The issue of change cannot be addressed without acknowledging the huge impact of electronic media. In 1964 Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.” The medium (computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.) shape and control the message. When Dock adopted tablets for every student, learning took on a whole new dimension. Instead of assigning students to the library for every research assignment, students could immediately access information in the classroom. I could say, “Do you know what happened in Chile last night?”, and immediately we could access different sites, and project pictures, videos, etc. However, it also meant that students needed to learn new forms of self-discipline, since the temptation to divert their search into non-relevant or harmful sites, or games, was only a click away. Study hall, noontime and other free time monitoring became immensely easier, because students could be buried in their devices. But that also meant that they were doing less face-to-face communication with each other.   

My hope for the future is that Dock would continue to be strong academically. I would hope that it would continue to work at ways of integrating a variety of racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds into both student and faculty populations. My prayer is that Dock would continue to be the Light on the hill, shining in the darkness as an alternative to whatever political, religious, racial or moral issue is currently dividing us. As an Anabaptist Christian school with Jesus as our example, I would hope that the Dock community would continue to offer an alternative, a third way, to our community, our nation, and our world.

My prayer is that Dock will continue to be the light on the hill, shining in the darkness as an alternative to whatever political, religious, racial or moral issue is currently dividing us. As an Anabaptist Christian school with Jesus as our example, I hope the Dock community will continue to offer an alternative—a third way—to our community, our nation, and our world.

Rod Derstine

 

Technology has been the biggest game changer at Dock. It is such a two-edged sword. It has enabled me easy access to all kinds of tools that have been so beneficial in the classroom. I was able to instantly have students listen to pieces of choral music that could energize and inspire. Communication was so much easier. We all know that it can also be a tool for all kinds of negative use. It will continue to be one of the greatest challenges for all school communities.

I have been delighted with the increased cultural diversity on campus. While this also can cause some added and frustration and work for teachers to accommodate students that are speaking a second language, I believe their presence has made our community far richer than when I first came to teach in 1986. What a unique opportunity to love and care for these students who have come our way. It also helps students who have no context other than our own community to have their world view expanded.