Most of us have been told to avoid talking to friends about religion and politics.

Butler Traditional High School social studies teacher Jonathan Joseph talks about both.

“I find that my faith is a great way to share what I believe, and I believe politics is a great way, too,” said Joseph, 26. “I believe that my faith is the biggest way to change people’s hearts, and I think politics, if done correctly, can change communities.”

Starting his sixth year at Butler, where he teaches civics and American government, Joseph works to build relationships with students in and outside the classroom.

“I can’t talk about Jesus inside the classroom, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to live like Jesus as much as possible,” added Joseph, a Southeast Christian Church member. “I just think the classroom is my mission field. I’m passionate about the subject, but my favorite part is building relationships with the students. Kids don’t care about your subject until you care about them. If you are teaching from just 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., you’re only seeing half of what our field has to offer.”

Joseph said he gets to know his students by keeping his classroom door open after hours, attending sporting events, sponsoring Fellowship of Christian Athletes and working with Kentucky Youth Assembly, a mock government program.

Also a Southwest Campus High School Ministry small group co-leader, Joseph has about 15 sophomore boys over to his house each week, and 12 of them are from Butler.

“These boys come over, and we just hang out, swim, eat and talk about Jesus. It’s been a blessing,” he said. “I know those parents are thanking me for what I’m doing for those boys, but really what HSM and those boys are doing for my co-leader Cameron (Thompson) and myself is good to see. I’ve been really fortunate.”

Joseph recently baptized senior Bryson Sebastian in his pool and sophomore Drew Keesee at the Southwest Campus. 

“Titles do not define who I am,” he said. “Politics and my personal political beliefs do not define who I am, but what I have found since I gave my life to Christ 10 years ago is that who I am and my identity is found as a Christian and follower of Jesus. In a world and year of such uncertainty, this I know: He is still on the throne and my hope is in that fact.”

Substitute teacher

Joseph, a 2011 Butler graduate, became a teacher almost by accident. After graduating from Lindsey Wilson College with a degree in communications and history, he planned to work in politics.

“I went to Butler for just a couple weeks to be a substitute teacher to make some money while I was waiting for a candidate to pick me up for the campaign season, but the guy I substituted for switched districts, and the principal hired me in November 2015,” Joseph said. “I went in to sub in one classroom, and I never left. Education was never on the radar, but I tell people all the time that it was God’s timing. It couldn’t have been any more perfect.”

Joseph got certified to teach and earned two master’s degrees, though he doesn’t look a whole lot older than some of his students.

“There were times I’d go down the hallway and people would stop me as if I was a student and ask, ‘Why are you out of dress code?’” Joseph added. “It did teach me of my ability to connect with my students. From being a student to becoming a teacher, I didn’t realize the importance of individual mentorship.”

Social studies teacher

Joseph fell in love with politics as a teenager.

“Civic engagement is being knowledgeable about your community and being an active citizen,” Joseph said. “Politics is where I see physical change happening and the importance of being an engaged American citizen no matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on. My love of politics and my faith makes civic engagement the easiest way to show my love to my fellow citizens.”

Butler was one of two Kentucky schools to get all of its eligible students registered to vote last year.

“I think that they realize their voice matters the longer they get engaged,” Joseph added. “With government, I try to sneak it in like a parent does with vegetables. Government is not one of those subjects that I try to make kids love or hate. I like to think … that I’ve helped those students who think politics and government don’t matter. I tell them throughout the year that you don’t have to have an interest in politics for it to have an interest in you. 2020 will be a great example for years to come of how much politics does impact your day-to-day lives. It’s a tense subject.”

Joseph feels like he has hit his stride as a teacher.

“The first couple of years, you’re all about yourself and how you’re going to stay above water,” he said. “I felt I was already giving my students my all, but now I’m able to focus primarily on everything but me. Now that I’m comfortable with teaching and my schedule, I’m able to focus on my students.”

For seniors concluding their high school careers, Joseph teaches a month-long lesson titled “Who am I?”

“I believe it to be the most important subject they’ll ever learn about and the question that cannot be avoided if you want the most out of your life,” he said.