Features Spring 2023

The Heart of Education

The lessons of education learned by two OBU alumnae have brought them back to Bison Hill to share this blessing with others.

If under “sources” of a paper, a reader saw the simple notation of “heart,” that might throw them off.

However, for the sake of accuracy, any paper, any instructions, any actions at all regarding education by Dr. Liz Justice or Professor Annie Keehn, are derived straight from the heart. They have well-earned titles and degrees, but their passion for education can easily be traced to this vital organ.

Justice is chair and director of the Henry F. McCabe Family School of Education and associate professor of special education. Keehn is an assistant professor of education. Together, they are co-chairs of the Alternative Certification and Credentialing for Elementary and Secondary Schools (ACCESS) program at OBU.

“Serving, loving, teaching and growing students is the heart of what I do, but even more, it is deeply embedded in who I am,” Justice said. “Compassion, empathy, positivity, encouragement, and inspiration are my love language, and they are what drive me in the classroom.”

She said there are moments when she is teaching that she can hardly contain her joy and gratefulness as she is in awe that God chose her to teach.

“When a student suddenly comes alive with a new revelation or connection, or when one instantly realizes her personal growth and beams with pride, or when a student confides his deepest joys, successes or hurts and I know I have become a safe place for him…these are the heart of who I am and the heart of why I teach,” Justice said.

Keehn quoted Psalm 127:3, which says, “Children are a gift from the Lord.”

“Teachers have the privilege of working with these “gifts” daily! I teach from the heart because it is my calling to work for the Lord by serving, educating, and loving my students,” she said. “Teaching is my calling, and the classroom is my mission field.”

With both educators, it is obvious that God led them to the classroom, but certainly didn’t leave them there alone.

Justice said that as a fourth-grade student in Mrs. (Cleta) Hoffman’s classroom, she became keenly aware of what it meant to be a “heart teacher.”

“It was also during this year that God confirmed his calling for my life as a teacher,” she recalls. “It may seem odd to some that one could know at 10 years old that God had placed a special calling on your life, but as I watched Mrs. Hoffman lovingly guide, teach, and love each of her students, I instinctively knew that I was being called to do the same.”

Justice isn’t saying that she fully understood the depth of that calling at 10. That understanding came along with her first teaching job.

“As a 21-year-old first-year teacher, I stood before my middle school students and became keenly aware of my mission field,” she said. “I realized that I may be the only ‘Jesus’ that some of my students encounter. I may be the only one praying over these children. I may be the only one offering a smile and encouraging word. I may even be the only one to acknowledge their worth. So, I determined that each day, I would ask God to equip me with the heart to teach His children as I served in my mission field.”

Keehn said God has “absolutely” been with her in the classroom.

“Through all the ups and downs that an educator experiences, God has walked with me,” she said. “When challenges with students arose, I leaned on the assurance that God had placed those particular students in my life that school year for a reason. Someone told me, ‘If He calls you to it, He’ll see you through it,’ and that has certainly been true for me.”

There was somewhere else that God led Justice and Keehn before guiding them to the classroom as teachers – OBU.

Justice said that for her, choosing to attend OBU was the easiest decision she’s ever made. Her grandparents, parents, some aunts and uncles, several siblings, their spouses, all attended OBU.

“It was and is part of the McCabe legacy to attend OBU,” she said. “That legacy now includes my own children and numerous nieces and nephews. Four generations have come to OBU and many of those through the education department. Once I arrived on campus, I quickly learned just how special OBU’s School of Education was. The professors did not only teach current research-based practices, content, pedagogy, and classroom management skills, they showed by example how to love and invest in students. Each professor, while unique in their own rights, demonstrated excellence in knowledge and practice.”

Keehn looks back and sees that God led her into OBU through one door, and then opened another.

She was studying biology at OBU with plans to attend medical school when she met a classmate who was majoring in secondary science education. Through learning more about that degree program and spending time in prayer, she realized very quickly it was the fit for her.

“Some probably thought I was crazy when I changed my major, but I’ve never regretted that decision,” she said. “I had dreamed of being a teacher as a child, but when I got older and went to college, teaching lost its appeal. I think many young people today fall into the same trap of thinking a career in teaching isn’t worthy of their time and talents. However, that could not be further from the truth. Children need caring adults to invest their time and talents in them. This is an opportunity to have a profound impact. Over and over as Dr. Justice and I meet with applicants to the ACCESS program, we hear others share similar stories about how they prepared for another career field in college, but since giving teaching a chance, they’ve fallen in love with it.”

Justice and Keehn both learned over time that God was not finished moving them in terms of their careers, first into roles in administration at public schools and then back to Bison Hill for service in the OBU School of Education.

Do not think that they haven’t looked back. In fact, each sees that as a responsibility to the teachers of today and tomorrow, and to the students of each. The ACCESS program is a perfect example.

Keehn said that one of the key issues facing education today is the lack of qualified teachers. This program is a way to help solve that problem. It’s another way OBU can prepare those who are seeking initial teacher licensure.

“More importantly though, it’s a way to ensure students are being taught by qualified and caring educators,” she added.

Justice shares that perspective.

“Through this program, OBU is partnering with public schools to impact our future,” Justice said. “The children of Oklahoma are our future and when we invest in their teachers, we invest in them. This program is creating one more avenue that OBU is helping to shape our future. We are investing in future shapers.”