Justin Schofield ('09) | Teacher Education

Justin Schofield photo

Secondary Education Graduate,
Dry Bones Ministry Intern

Justin Schofield sees teaching as a mission field - a chance to live out his faith as he impacts the lives of students. To that end, he spent the summer of 2008 working with Dry Bones, the Colorado-based organization whose mission is to "reach, rescue, reconcile, and reclaim" homeless youths on the streets of Denver. Justin became connected with the group through a friend of his who worked there as an intern.

During his summer internship, Justin spent time building relationships with homeless young people and leading church youth groups through the city, encouraging them to seek out people on the fringes of society in their own communities. He found the experience both powerful and motivating.

"I had a really unique experience," he said. "It has a profound impact on me."

One of the aspects of Dry Bones that Justin found most intriguing was the program's emphasis on building relationships with people rather than simply providing for their immediate physical needs. He sees the relationships formed as deep and long-lasting, in which both Dry Bones staff and homeless kids take risks in order to love each other.

"It's about saying, 'You as a person matter, and I'm going to love you,'" he said. "The goal is to give people value through their relationships."

His Dry Bones experience motivated Justin as a teacher to look for kids on the fringes, and helped him realize that "I need to get to these kids before they get to the street."

The experience also changed him in less tangible ways, affecting his overall outlook.

"Dry Bones is the kind of experience where I can't be the same [person] I was," he said.

Challenging circumstances

Justin took that mindset into the classroom when he did his mandatory semester of student teaching at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas last fall. Roughly 80 percent of the school's students are below the poverty line, he said, and nearly all the students will be the first in their families to graduate high school. Though the circumstances were challenging, Justin found himself rising to the occasion. 

"It was a really good experience," he said. 

Justin worked primarily with English-language learners, teaching two upper-level English classes. The material was challenging, including Shakespeare and Beowulf, and many students had difficulty understand the complexities of the writing style and language. He discovered that using innovative techniques such as visual aids, charades, and group work helped get the message through to his students. 

Fortunately, the cooperating teacher who served as his mentor let Justin find his own style. And his students were intelligent and eager to learn - their primary difficulty was with a language barrier. 

Lessons from ACU mentors

Some of the techniques Justin used he learned from his mentors at ACU. For instance, English professor Dr. Steven Moore taught him to take ownership of what he'd learned and to think outside the box. When he was teaching Beowulf, Justin asked his students to relate to the main character's boasting in a pivotal scene of the work. Many of his students couldn't think of things at which they excelled. 

"They're very aware of their own failings" he said. "I need to give them an opportunity to succeed."

Justin also learned from Dr. Bill Rankin, another professor in the English department. Although Dr. Rankin is highly respected in his field, he is always willing to consider what his students are saying and respects their opinions. Justin wants to incorporate that approach into his own relationship with students.  

"It challenges me to really consider what my students are saying. It's empowering [for them]," he said. 

Making school relevant

As a kid who hated high school, Justin understands the boredom and impatience that his students sometimes feel. He's determined to combat that with interesting teaching styles and a commitment to relevancy to students' lives.  

"It's made me want to keep it interesting as a teacher," he said. "It challenges me to create relevance. They haven't been taught to be that proactive." 

In the midst of relating literature to real life and creating interest in the English language, Justin always has his eye out for the kids who are falling through the cracks - the ones who are on the edges of society and losing hope.  

"I'm the teacher who looks for the kids that no one else notices," he said. "If I can keep some of those kids in school, their future is looking up." 

And, in the end, it all comes down to one simple thing:"You have to change their mindset."

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