“When you get awarded for something you love so much, it’s doubly amazing,” claims teacher Barbara McWilliams of Naples Christian Academy, who was recently named the Florida Teacher of the Year by the Association of Christian Schools.
When Principal Scott Jones asked her to represent the school, she thought, “What chance do I have? But, leave it to the Lord – when they call your name, it’s humbling.”
McWilliams always wanted to be a teacher.
Her mother was a teacher also, and she says, “I knew from the time I was 3 that I would be an art teacher.”
Her parents even constructed a homemade chalkboard that she used to draw on for hours.
“Guess they got tired of me drawing on the walls,” she muses. Years later, she finished college in three years, saying, “I wanted to get going!”
The other great motivational force in her life was her desire to share her faith. She substituted in public school, but didn’t like having to be a “covert Christian.”
“What I love about a Christian school – everything you can tie into Scripture. We have great teachers here. Our kids come back and tell us how great it was to have had the benefit of attending here.” At Naples Christian Academy, McWilliams teaches Bible classes, World Religions and her first love, art.
The art room is not the traditional type of classroom; teacher’s desk in front, charts on the walls, chalk writing on the blackboards. No, this is a literal petri dish for learning.
For one thing, the class begins with prayer. McWilliams invites God into the classroom before the activities get a chance to begin.
The class consists of only 12 students. McWilliams is known for her ability to incorporate the children’s art projects with the other subjects that they are learning, and then incorporate all of that into God’s great plan. The students have already created a “universe,” a star-studded bunch of galaxies on black paper.
Today they will put planets in the solar system, paper-mache heavenly bodies that they made last week.
McWilliams is in her element with all the bustle. Darting from student to student to oversee their work, one overhears bits of conversation.
“Grab a seat – don’t play with your planets,” she instructs the student at one table.
At the next table she assures a student, “You can never have too many meteorites!”
She smiles serenely.
“Pandemonium works,” she says.
The chaos is only on the surface. It is apparent that there is deep structure that withstands all the pandemonium that can occur in the school solar system. It is the foundation of the Gospel.
McWilliams has been innovative in bringing new ideas into the classrooms and the school. One idea that she helped to implement was giving each class a mission, a charity they support throughout the year. The list is long; Angel Tree, Ronald McDonald House, World Vision, as well as local charities.
By participating in food drives or volunteer work, the children are exposed to another important Christian concept: Serving.
“I want them to know the joy of serving,” she says.
Recently, she had the opportunity to influence two student’s eternal destinies. A 12-year-old came to her asking questions about making a personal profession of faith. McWilliams whipped out a Four Spiritual Laws booklet she keeps in her desk for such an occasion.
“We both were filled with tears of joy and my heart was overflowing as he prayed,” she remembers. “Neither of us could stop smiling for days!”
Neither McWilliams nor the student told anyone of the decision he had made. Just a few days later, the boy’s stepsister came to McWilliams also. She had accepted Christ as a young child, but wanted to find out about making a true commitment now that she was older and truly understood. McWilliams got out the little booklet once again, and the child dedicated her life to Christ.
Later, McWilliams shared with her about her stepbrother’s decision. Everyone was overjoyed.
“Having the freedom and joy to share Christ with students and to lead them in a personal relationship with Him is the greatest joy any Christian teacher can experience,” she adds.
McWilliams is married to a full-time missionary for Campus Crusade for Christ, and has three grown children, two boys and one daughter. The handsome plaque and monetary prize for being named Teacher of the Year will both find a place within Naples Christian Academy, but to McWilliams, the real prize comes every day.
McWilliams does not want to waste a moment of precious teaching time. As she patiently unplugs the lids of the Elmer’s glue bottles (professionals have the same problems as the rest of us), she reflects on her mission.
“Every minute they’re in a seat in my room, I’m going to pour into them.”