At the heart of a boarding school, the House or Dorm parents play a vital role, along with the Tutors. We asked a few to reflect on their role and, especially, on what it means for a Christian to serve…
Houseparenting in the UK
In the pursuit of happiness we can often chase adrenaline highs, wealth, objects but we lack contentment. Being a houseparent is a wonderful job as my role is to parent these boys to grow up knowing they belong. Through the Christian model of the school having houseparents means the pupils are part of my family, eat in my house and have a sense of home and belonging in the moment. Teenage years can be both formative and traumatic and need a careful steer to protect their impressionable minds. At Monkton we are so lucky as the parents buy into this, as we pass the baton between us to raise these boys to be successful, confident and fulfilled in life. But most importantly they know of the ultimate belonging and home through Jesus. Subconsciously they see the gospel lived out as being part of my family, our behaviour management and consciously through Friday House Prayer meetings or Tuesday thoughts for the day. On the days you are struggling or everything is a little busy my advice is find your 0,0. Find the place at the heart where it all started. I went into teaching as I felt passionate about pupil welfare and the development of their character. For me I therefore go into the common room, speak to some boys and find out how they are. It’s a chance to get back to my core interest and passion.
When we applied for the post we had spent a long time praying for the job knowing that God is at work and this has continued to be a great comfort, guidance and strength for us. For others looking at being a houseparent or currently in the post, prayer is a great place to start. One of my highlights since starting the role was my head of house asking for us to stop a meeting and pray. It was a great reminder that we are not in control and that we need to acknowledge our need for God. It was also lovely as clearly the boys had realised their vulnerability and therefore need for God. I try to pray for each of the boys, however, I am by no means perfect and don’t do it as much as I would like, but by doing this I consciously think about their needs and seek wisdom on how best to support them. Prayer is also a way others can support us in our role. Regularly we are comforted to hear parents have been praying for us and the boys. We really appreciate it!
We took up this job as both an opportunity to serve and a chance to make a family for the boys who were away from theirs. It’s such a great opportunity for this and there is such a need. Much like parenting you don’t ever switch off from thinking about them as they become part of your family. It’s a lifestyle, a chance to serve and a great gift.
Cosmo and Bethany O’Reilly are Houseparents of School House at Monkton
A House Tutor’s view
Serving in a boarding school is both rewarding and challenging! Moving from India to work in a boarding school in London was eventful, though the overall essence of service remains the same. Being a House Tutor at Mill Hill School is a wonderful opportunity for being available for the boarders in the evenings for conversations, academic support and pastoral care. I thoroughly enjoy the conversations and interactions which build a good and healthy teacher-pupil relationship beyond the classroom and also help the Housemaster. According to me, serving in a boarding house requires one to be a good listener and being available for the pupils to reach-out for help! As a Christian, it is also important, as we all know and do, to pray for the boarders as they live away from their families and friends and for their unique pastoral needs.
Victor Selvaraj, former teacher at Hebron School in India and now teaching at Mill Hill, north London
Dormparenting at Chengelo School, Zambia
Angie Dodds recently undertook to share some Dorm parenting wisdom with the Dorm staff at Chengelo via Zoom. Her framework is CHENGELO…
Call Holding on to your call is vital, especially when times are tough – and they will be, any work with people or community, especially a community that seeks to serve God and further his kingdom, Satan doesn’t like.
Humility. Beware of pride. Be prepared to humble yourself, to say sorry when you have got it wrong. Remember Christ came in humility to our world and he is our example. Be a good leader, a good role model. You may not see the results of your leadership in your life time, but you need to do your bit and trust God for the rest. Primarily, you are leaders in order to lead others to Jesus. A title should not define who we are. Our confidence is in God and we know Christ has promised to be with us always.
Encouragement. Everyone likes to be encouraged. Encourage as many people as you can in a day, you never know what effect that might have. Share what God has shown you from his word that day. It may encourage others who may be tired and worn out. Always be encouraged that you are united with Christ, you are his child. Remember God’s promises. He doesn’t break them.
New. Keep short accounts with colleagues and students. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, remember that God’s mercies are new every morning. Don’t bear a grudge, don’t have favourites, do see every day as a challenge. Sing to the Lord a new song daily.
Goals. Your goal should mean helping to transform people and that means everything from the inside out with priority on the spiritual. You do need to plan activities, to set goals for yourselves and your students but ALWAYS bringing them before God.
Energy/Enthusiasm. It’s great when you have it, but what do you do when you don’t? Act, share the load, ask for help, use the gifts of those around you, go the extra mile even when you don’t feel like it and pray for all you are worth.
Laws/Love. We must have laws/rules for society to run smoothly. If you obey God’s law and love it, and it becomes part of you, then you are going to apply it naturally to any and every situation you face daily, and if the children see you doing it then hopefully you will be good role models and they will want to live like that too. Children like boundaries, they make them feel secure. Make sure they know what they are, and that you know what they are and keep them. On love, Jesus commanded us to ‘Love one another’ so that is what we must do. Simply.
Obedience. Are you willing to obey God and give up what you love if you are asked to? Your reward may not be earthly for being obedient, but it certainly will be heavenly. Answering God’s call to be a dormparent is the first step but obedience is daily.
Angie Dodds, first dorm-parented middle school boys in 1984-1987 at Hebron School, south India, where she also taught in the primary school. Having left and returned to Hebron with her family in 1996 she dormparented senior girls for 13 years as well as teaching English. After leaving Hebron in 2009 she worked for a short time in Kollegal girls home in south India where the family had always been involved, training dormparents and teaching English. From 2010 to 2013 she helped out on short term projects teaching English and generally helping at helping in Amano School Zambia.
Dorm parenting at Hebron School in south India
We can only imagine that most people who work with young people in a pastoral context, especially when that role demands you to be in loco parentis to the students in your care, see it as a vocation rather than a ‘career move’. So what specific difference does it make carrying out the work of houseparenting as a Christian?
At our school in South India, our community of students and staff represent over thirty different nationalities. At its best it’s a little taste of what heaven must be like. As with all international communities, however, there’s a need to continually adapt and adjust to the plethora of cross-cultural sensitivities at play. Our shared Christian faith and sense of calling to serve at Hebron is more than just a school ethos; it’s the very air that we breathe and the thing that binds us all together.
Living in close proximity with others within a boarding school context has its challenges, but as Christian houseparents, it provides us with an amazing opportunity to help our students practise some of the extraordinary counter-cultural attitudes modelled in Scripture – attitudes and behaviours that we are certain will benefit their relationships throughout their lives. We regularly take time to talk to them about things like preferring other’s needs above our own (Philippians 2:3-4, Romans 12.10), choosing to be encouraging and build each other up rather than engaging in unkind banter (1Thessalonians 5:11), forgiveness and acceptance of each other’s differences (Ephesians 4:2), working towards resolution rather than harbouring anger (Ephesians 4:26), and being great role models to others (1 Timothy 4.12).
But, of course, the biggest difference that our faith makes to our houseparenting role is prayer. We frequently take time to pray for each of the boys and their families by name. We seek God’s wisdom when dealing with conflict, and his strength and patience when we feel emotionally or physically depleted. We share ‘arrow prayer requests’ with a small group of praying friends, and we ask colleagues to pray with and for us.
Prayer really helps us to keep perspective. Much like when parenting our own children, it’s easy to lose perspective and absorb stress as houseparents when things don’t go perfectly, students make mistakes and we’re faced with disciplinary issues. Appropriate discipline is obviously important, but understanding God’s grace and unconditional love really helps us to ‘reset’ after incidents occur – to forgive, move on and wipe clean the slate, just as God does for us over and over again.
We are so blessed and encouraged by an amazing group of Christian parents of our current cohort who have, for several years, had a ‘Praying Parents’ WhatsApp group. We share specific prayer requests with them when necessary, and they have a routine of praying each day for different boys and topics each day, such as health, friendships, safety, exams and – happily – for us as we look after their children!
Our relationship with God and sense of calling led us to Hebron School and to the specific roles that we are currently doing. This doesn’t mean that it always feels easy or straightforward, but this sense of purpose is what sustains us. Whether we’re playing football with the boys, cooking up mountains of pancakes on a Saturday morning, listening to the tales of woe of an angsty teenager, or supervising prep, we attempt to keep in mind that we are doing it all ‘for the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10.31). We count it as an enormous privilege and a responsibility to be houseparents and to have the chance to impact the lives of young people. We absolutely could not do it alone though. Wherever possible, we seek out experienced colleagues to advise us and we seek God, from whose fountain of life we draw all the fun, energy and patience that we need to do this important job.
Bene and Rachel Medhurst work at Hebron School in South India. Bene teaches PE and DT and Rachel teaches English and Drama. They have three sons aged 8,6 and 4, and are houseparents for the Year 12 boys.
This article was first published in our printed edition of TISCA News and Views number 84 – Spring 2022.