Faithful Witness in the Classroom—Educating, Encouraging, Inspiring

April 25, 2019By Nathan Peterson, Urbana Missions

Warmly greeting students, helping them visualize concepts with creative illustrations, and even volunteering to showcase his basketball skills—it’s clear that history teacher Greg Ahlquist cares about the students in the Webster Central School District in Webster, New York.

But as the 2013 New York State Teacher of the Year, Greg is also talented in helping them learn. Discussions are a near-daily staple in his classroom, and students spend much of their time analyzing historical documents firsthand. Greg can be found circulating around the room, stepping in to give students a broader context of events, when needed, and pushing them to go deeper in their thinking.

“I tell students that I want them to challenge my own thoughts and perceptions,” he said. “It’s an environment of exchange and respect.” 

A Widening Worldview

Greg’s emphasis on challenging thoughts largely mirrors his own experience at Urbana 93. Inspired by his staff worker’s description, he looked forward to experiencing the conference with friends from his InterVarsity chapter at the State University of New York at Geneseo. 

Many of Urbana’s speakers called Greg to reconsider his perspective on life and the world. “Having this larger, deeper understanding has necessarily affected my role as a world history teacher,” he said. “It has given me a greater understanding, compassion, and sensitivity to other people and cultures that has impacted how and what I communicate to the students in my classroom.”

Not only was Greg’s outlook in the classroom affected, but Urbana also helped shape his perspective as he and his wife, Amy, a former InterVarsity campus minister, led teams of students on overseas missions trips. 

Greg also left the conference with a stronger sense of the call to serve the body of Christ. “Urbana and InterVarsity have absolutely affected my fervent belief and passion for the local church. After Urbana, sitting on the sidelines was never an option. The Lord took away the option of being a passive consumer,” he said.

A Daily Blessing

Thanks to Urbana’s influence and how God has grown him, Greg clearly sees teaching as his vocation. “I love that my job is more than a job,” he said. “It’s something that God has called me to do. I consider it a privilege that I get to teach every day. The Lord has paved the way and given me an opportunity to do something that I was wired and designed to do. That has been a daily blessing for the last 19 years.”

From visiting students in the hospital to giving up his prep time to be a listening ear, Greg has had many opportunities to demonstrate Christ’s love. He also appreciates the chance to serve as a role model for Christian students.

Even so, Greg acknowledges that teaching has its share of challenges. “There have been moments of frustration and feeling helpless and unable to affect the educational system,” he said. “Systemic problems and inequity, questions of access and opportunity for all students continue to break my heart and push me to try to lead for change.”

As an award-winning teacher, Greg has a powerful platform to campaign for this kind of change. “I’ve seen the Lord use this opportunity for me to speak to, and on behalf of, teachers across the state. It has opened the doors for me to share a message about beliefs, opportunity, and the potential for all students to learn and grow. I’ve been able to serve through this award.”

Urbana Year