Friday, August 8, 2008

THE DIFFERENCE TEACHERS MAKE
Teachers can make a world of difference...and we must help them do it

TRIGGERING SCHOOL REMINISCENCES. Becky is a public school nurse with over 1,000 students assigned to her clinic. As she went back to work yesterday in preparation for students returning to school next Monday, I got to thinking about the world of teaching and education as I experienced it, particularly in elementary school.

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD IT WOULD BE. How wonderful the world would be if it was like the world Mrs. Dodd seared into the imaginations of each of her first and second grade students at Park Elementary School in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Or, if teachers were all like Mrs. Mumaugh, my fourth-grade teacher at Park School, each student would feel inspired and challenged to do their best. The world these teachers invoked world was diverse and accepting. That world was hopeful. It was a place of discovery of old ways and new frontiers. It made room for everyone. That world had boundaries and restorative consequences for crossing those boundaries. That world valued music, art, play, and laughter along with hard work. That world was one to which I looked forward to being a part. I still try to live Mrs. Dodd’s and Mrs. Mumaugh's world.

INSPIRED BY TEACHERS. Each of our four children have had positively influential teachers like Mrs. Dodd and Mrs. Mumaugh, who have put more passion into their teaching than what is standardly required. Abby's third-grade teacher, Mrs. Thate, fueled her imagination and saw incredible potential in her. Jared has been inspired to become a teacher himself because of two of his teachers--Mrs. Hahn and Mrs. Johnson. Mr. Tatum at Ben Davis High School has motivated the intellectual imaginations of students like Molly.

What in a teacher so inspires a child, motivates them to learn, and broadens their horizons? Whatever it is, we must fuel it. We must find ways to encourage every teacher to be and do their best. Why not take a teacher to lunch? Tell them what you think of their value. Present them with a gift or book in their class at school. Applaud and reward their "good behavior." With some of your free time, help them out. We can find ways to reinforce their positive role in the lives of our children and their shaping role in our society.

ONE BAD APPLE. This is not to say all teachers are good. They aren’t. Some are woefully out of focus or off base. A few like that have been responsible for teaching my children somewhere along the way. But, like students, let us begin with the assertion that no teacher is beyond hope or beyond being able to change and grow. Let us assume their original choice to teach was not the pursuit of job security, summers off, control, pettiness, or prosperity. Might they, with steady encouragement and accountability, rediscover their sense of calling, their vocation, and once again let their lives speak and not their frustrations and fears?

CHURCH SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Shouldn’t churches take the lead in encouraging public school teachers? How quick our pulpits and coffee conversations are to run down public education. Church folk can be rather dismissive of local schools. Our private conversations and harbored notions translate into widely-felt spirit, action, and policy—for good or for ill. What are you and your congregation projecting onto the whole? Have a teacher appreciation day. Re-deploy some volunteer resources from the church to the school. Orchestrate ‘round-the-school-day prayer for teachers, students, administrators, and school systems. Invest in needed school equipment. Let your local schools know how much you care and how critical to the future of children, the community and the world you believe they are.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Photo: Park Elementary School in Parkerburg, West Virginia, where I matriculated 1st-6th grades. Built in 1913, it was demolished in the 1990's.

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Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.