There’s something about Captain Tommy Presley that makes you comfortable. He rarely comes to Grace Lutheran dressed in his Huntsville Police Department uniform, but this afternoon he’s stopping by on a late lunch break. He will be retiring from HPD in October after protecting and serving for 25 years, and he will join the Grace Lutheran faculty as a theology teacher, athletic director and coach.
As he sits there in that uniform—you know, the one you hope to never see following you in a police car—he puts you at ease. His kids went to Grace Lutheran, so he’s been a familiar face there for more than 20 years.
That’s what is comforting. While his position commands authority, it’s his heart that makes him a father first and then a police officer.
In October, when he joins the staff full time, he’s hoping to combine his roles as a father, police officer and long-time Grace Lutheran elder into a role model for students who will see him every day.
“Teaching teenagers how to deal with law enforcement is straight from Scripture,” Tommy said. “Respect the authority you’re dealing with, answer the questions that are necessary, follow commands and directions, be polite and respectful. Everything that’s in Scripture that teaches us how to treat someone else is a key component in how to deal with an authority figure.”
Of course, sometimes the topic turns to Tommy’s adventures as a cop—kids always want to hear good stories—but he’s careful to turn it back into a lesson about how to treat other people.
He knows it’s working when he sees students use the lessons they learn at Grace Lutheran when they’re outside of the classroom.
“I’ve had a few children who I’ve seen it play out where they use Scripture to handle whatever problem or situation they were having, and it worked out very well,” he said. “I have seen students rise above their limitations multiple times, whether in sports or academics. Whatever limit they had, they relied on God and moved through the situation in order to overcome the problem they had. They remind me of what Scripture already teaches us.”
Captain Tommy Presley isn’t the only new teacher at Grace Lutheran this year. Heather Groggel is a transplant from Central California. She moved to Huntsville because her sister lives here, and she jumped right into her role as a fifth grade homeroom teacher and middle school math teacher.
Heather is a veteran teacher at Lutheran schools, spending the last 11 years teaching at elementary schools outside of Sacramento.
“It’s always been my passion for teaching in a private school setting, where I can share the Gospel and be able to incorporate it into everything I teach,” Groggel said.
It can be hard to incorporate the Bible into math lessons—unless you count all the prayers going up before tests. However, when Groggel works with students who have a conflict or other problem, she encourages them to pray about it or gives them examples from the Bible.
Middle school is a rough time for most people. Hormones, acne and drama form an often explosive mix. To help guide students through those years, Groggel tries to remember what it was like for her to be in middle school.
“You can be funny and sarcastic with them,” Groggel said. “You can use humor to get through to them. Also, I want them to know that I’m there for them. They can come talk to me.”
She’s only been at Grace Lutheran for three weeks, so she’s working to build relationships that will span their time at the school. When it comes to teaching, Groggel focuses on teaching students how to take notes and use their text books.
Don’t worry, parents; if you need help understanding the math, she will explain it to you as well.
“There are so many different ways to do math,” Groggel said. “I’m OK if they come up with different ways as long as they show their work and are able to explain their thinking.”
Grace Lutheran Principal Josh Swartz said he wanted Groggel to join his staff because of her “outside-the-box thinking that bridges cutting-edge, 21st century learning and best practices.”
“She is a difference maker, and that is the type of teacher I look for, want and need in this school,” Swartz said. “Passionate, knowledgeable, well grounded in Christ, pushing the boundaries of education, and a heart and desire to make a difference.
While Grace Lutheran students are similar to ones she’s worked with across the country, there is one thing she’s noticed about the students in Alabama—something that will make all southern parents proud.
“They’re a lot more polite,” Groggel said. “You definitely get that hospitality thing that you expect from Southerners.
We wouldn’t accept anything less.