Faith in the English Classroom at Maranatha

Growing up, Duane Cilke never felt at home in the English classroom. Junior and Senior year were particularly frustrating, when he earned a D in English both years. “I didn’t apply myself academically as well as I should have,” he says. It was in his first English Composition class at junior college that Mr. Cilke found his calling, thanks to affirmation from his professor. Today, as a Maranatha English teacher, Mr. Cilke strives to offer that same encouragement to his students as he integrates faith into the classroom.

The life-changing assignment was about a line in a William Wordsworth poem. Mr. Cilke invested time in the assignment, and a week later, he earned an A on the essay. But more significant than the high grade was the encouragement his professor offered in the margin, calling him articulate and saying that he had a great gift. “The comment in the margin of a paper changed the trajectory of my life,” Mr. Cilke says.

“That was a pivotal point in my life, and the affirmation is still meaningful to me today,” Mr. Cilke recalls. “Because of that, there was a spark in me — if someone could make that kind of investment in me, maybe I could make that kind of investment in others.” He later transferred to Evangel University, where he earned his degree in English.

Mr. Cilke’s inspiration for integrating faith into his classes stems in part from his passion for a Biblical worldview. Two trainings towards the start of his career — one with Summit Ministries and one with the forerunner of Association of Christian Schools International — were especially significant. “Since then, I’ve done everything I can to equip myself to articulate a Biblical worldview,” Mr. Cilke explains.

Duane Cilke Maranatha

“Some schools set up their curriculum, and then they add a Bible class or a chapel or a devotional, making it a Christian school,” Mr. Cilke reflects. “But the difference with Maranatha is that Christ is at the center of all we do and is the hub that keeps everything else in perspective.” It’s with this mindset that Mr. Cilke makes faith and a Biblical worldview part of his curriculum in the English classroom.

Mr. Cilke’s sophomore English students study Homer’s The Odyssey and complete a thorough companion project calling them to reflect on their own life events and themes. “These students explore their souls and passions and what God is calling them to do,” Mr. Cilke says.

Also as sophomores, students write a position paper. Past topics have included abortion, human trafficking and immigration. They explore sources on both sides, then write their opinion backed by their research, exploring the role faith plays in the large issues of our time.

Mr. Cilke’s seniors write a thorough career paper, the culmination of assessments on spiritual gifts, their heart and passion, abilities, personality and experience. “We’re wonderfully and fearfully made and we’re unique, so this assignment helps students consider how they can glorify God in the optimal way based on how they are gifted.”

Faith integration is paramount not only to large-scale assignments, but to daily class discussions too. Recently, one of Mr. Cilke’s classes studied a poem by William Wordsworth that mentions the exhilaration of reflecting on nature. The discussion included Psalm 19, which considers the glory of God in creation.

And integrating faith extends beyond the curriculum: it’s part of Mr. Cilke’s relationships with students too. “I’m constantly praying for the kids and looking for opportunities to affirm them and encourage them.”

Mr. Cilke recalls a sophomore who was bright, yet kept to himself. “I felt called to encourage him,” he says. “I said, you have incredible ability and I believe you could do anything you want to do — but you’re not going to believe what God has for you if you start seeking him with all your heart! You can use your ability for yourself or use your ability as a servant.” That moment marked a 180-degree change in the young man. They’ve since kept in touch, and today, the MCA graduate is enrolled in seminary at Princeton.

“The bottom line for me is not that Jesus is an add-on or an addition to curriculum. He’s the core of our being, and the core of our classes here,” Mr. Cilke says. “My passion in everything is to see high capacity leaders realize their God-given redemptive potential.”