In the Spotlight: Chris Achterhof

In the Spotlight: Chris Achterhof

In the Spotlight provides a view of Unity teachers in their roles in the mission of Developing Followers of Jesus to be Leaders. The focus of this “spotlight” is on the five UC teachers who, having recently celebrated their 10th year in serving Unity, underwent an intense 10-year review by administrators, their peers and the UC Board. Each of these individuals was found to be an outstanding Unity Christian teacher.

I met with Mr. Christopher (“Chris”) Achterhof in the UC Commons on a Friday morning in February. We had a great view of the UC “Courtyard of Patrons” and all the engraved bricks bearing the names of Unity Patrons – hundreds of names of the champions and supporters of the cause of Christ carried out by Unity Christian. (Sitting in this location for these interviews, I always imagine the patrons listening in on how the Christian faith is being passed on through Unity.) And so our conversation began…

Being at Unity is all about opportunities to build relationships. Opportunities to share my faith and help cultivate the faith of my students. Opportunities to help my students learn and discover leading them in Government and US History classes, coaching Boys JV basketball and advising Student Council.

“You can trust me with your kids.” – Mr. Christopher Achterhof, Open House, September 2016.

During his ten years at Unity, Chris has come to realize that trust is the heart of relationships. Trust determines how effective he is as teacher and coach. Chris shared that building trust with his students and their parents starts with each person’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ…

I am a follower of Jesus. I pursue Him. He gives me peace each and every day. He became very real for me following my Dad’s death August 3, 2014. I trust Him. I truly understand the trust parents place in me as a teacher or coach of their son or daughter. My oldest son Jackson started Kindergarten last year, and it is a bizarre feeling to put your son on a bus at 7:30 in the morning and not see him again for seven hours. Each day I trust he will be cared for. I trust he will be in an environment of academic excellence. And I trust that the teachers and staff he interacts with will help nurture him in becoming a strong Christian young man.

Parents of every young man and woman sitting in the desks in my room expect the same of me. I am thankful parents trust me to help them nurture their kids. It’s what I tell parents at Open Houses and at Parent-Teacher Conferences.

In trusting Chris to teach history and government to their children, parents acknowledge how much influence these classes with him have in shaping their children’s faith, and how Chris will help their children discover who they are, why they are here and the purpose God has for them.

By law, most high school teachers may only open the “secular” window – the world-without-God view. At Unity, Chris opens the “Seeing-God-in Everything” window…

When studying history and government some people talk about integrating faith and history. We don’t. God does not need to be integrated. God always has been. We see God as history. God is there in every aspect of history. The more we study and discover, the more we see Him in history. Studying history is an adventure in making Him more and more visible. The more we see God in history, the more we learn from the past, the more our faith increases and the more He binds us together.

Acknowledging the fact that most history texts exclude God’s presence, Chris explained how he addresses this…

I have the students go to primary sources and first-person accounts where they read accounts of God being there, God being involved. These sources, these accounts, help students to think for themselves and to see God more clearly in history. This gives us opportunity to have many great discussions of our God and God-in-history discussions, which shape and increase my students’ faith — and mine.

In government, we discuss faith in the context of politics – how to be involved, how to challenge our assumptions, how we must think at higher and more critical levels.

As Chris’s excitement and enthusiasm grew dramatically, I clearly heard his central themes: For history – “Seeing God in everything;” and, for government – “What is God’s will?” So how, I asked Chris, do you reach your students through your classes?

I am adamant about and deeply committed to building trusting relationships. I try to make all students feel welcomed and accepted in my classroom. These relationships serve as a catalyst for meaningful and real discussions. I build these relationships by meeting students at the door before each class, connecting and relating personally as well as through history during class, during a summer trip to Washington D.C. and being involved in co- and extracurricular activities and events.

I have 120 students total in my US History and AP Government classes. I want to build a trusting relationship with each student. So, on the first day of school I take their picture and then I study their faces and names. I must do that. They are someone’s kids. I’m trusted. Now I must be worthy of parent trust. And I want parents to know that I don’t take my role lightly. Their kids are safe with me.

I feel my biggest accomplishment at Unity is the relationships I have built—and am building—with my students. By building relationships out of mutual love and respect, I can do my part, as small as it is, in making Unity a special place where we can empower students to live for Christ. Unity is about building relationship with students, having a passion for what we do, and developing academic excellence in conjunction with nurturing the Christian faith.

This Christian community (students, staff and parents) has lifted me up through huge changes and challenges. With my dad’s death, I now realize tomorrow is not a guarantee, and because of this, I try to value the important relationships in my life — God, children, wife, family, friends, students and parents.

We concluded our conversation several minutes before the bell rang. Chris wanted to get to his classroom to be at the door to greet his students. “It is so important I be there right away for each student,” he explained. “I never know who will be first. It is an opportunity I must not miss.”

As Chris headed up the stairs to his classroom, I hung around the commons area to find out how others described Chris or described Mr. Achterhof…

From Mr. Bill Postma

Chris makes class fun for every student. He gets all his students to achieve excellence at high standards. He teaches US History, a required course for freshmen. They’ll tell you it is a fun class. He makes it an adventure seeing God in everything. He teaches Advanced Placement Government for sophomores, a college-credit class, and even with college rigorous-study, the students have fun.

From Mr. Jerry DeGroot

Chris is Godly – a Godly man in every aspect. He is personable, caring. And he is dedicated to his students’ success.

From two students

  • He is so funny… It’s so enjoyable being in his class. He will say stuff to trick us so we dig and sort for the truth. He takes his job seriously. He cares for us – I know this because he is kind, helpful and gets us to learn. We have lots of great discussions and joking around. We still get it done, we learn – even though I am not into history.
  • He gets us to think as Christians in history. He puts us into history. This week it is the Missile Crisis. He shows us a video, he gives us articles and pictures to read and then he has us answer, ‘What would you have done if you were a member of President Kennedy’s cabinet? Give 3 options with the pros and cons of each option.’ He makes it real; and that’s fun.

As I contemplated how I would write this article, I recalled an explanation a young father gave me a few years ago on why his children would go to Unity. “Jack,” this father said, “I will choose to send my children to Unity. The Lord willing, my wife and I will have it no other way. We have learned that the most important decision in influencing and shaping our children’s faith and preparing them for their future, is who we choose to be their teachers. And I am holding you—yes, you—accountable to make sure Unity has outstanding Christian teachers we can trust!”

And now these same parents have their first child attending Unity. So, to this now middle-aged father (and to you the Tidings readers and Unity Patrons) I say, “Mr. Achterhof is a history teacher you can trust with your children. He’s a “Carrying-Christ-in my-heart” teacher who has his students studying history through the window of “Seeing God in Everything.” He has his students studying government through the window of “God’s will be done”. And, he’s helping each student ask and answer: “Who am I? Why am I here? I know God has a plan for me. I am being well-prepared.”

To Chris… Thanks for your commitment. May the Lord bless you—infusing you with holiness and divine will. To God be the glory.

To the Unity Community… Join me in thanking God for Chris and his colleagues at Unity, and praying that “Unity Christian continues to be exemplary in carrying out the cause of Christ by developing followers of Christ to be leaders. Lord, may it always be so.”

Jack Postma- Principal Emeritus 2012

Editor’s Note: Not only does Mr. Chris Achterhof teach US History and AP Government classes, he also coaches the Boys JV Basketball and serves as one of the advisers for Student Council at Unity. Growing up in Holland, Michigan, Chris graduated from Holland Christian High in 2001. He spent his freshman year at Grand Valley State University in the hopes of becoming a police officer. But when color-blindness prevented him from pursuing this, the Lord directed him to his true calling, and Chris transferred to Calvin College, graduated and came to Unity in 2006. Chris has two younger brothers and a sister. He and wife Emily (a Holland Chr. and GVSU grad) have 3 children: Jackson (6), Colten, (4) and Ethan (1). They reside in Holland.