“Back to school!” are words that fill us with some combination of anticipation, excitement, anxiety, fear, good and bad memories. Whether we’re a kindergartener marching off to start the endeavor (or the proud and teary parent of one,) a middle schooler, nervous new high school student, college student stepping out into new territory, a teacher, administrator or staff person, the start of a new school year is a new beginning full of hope.
Teachers are my heroes. I’m the proud parent of four teachers, including a first year Teach for America teacher facing sixth grade math students in an underserved school where many of her students will be wearing ankle bracelets (so now, many years after being the proud and teary parent watching her march off to kindergarten, I’m the proud and anxious and teary parent watching her march off to – whew, I’m not sure what!) All four of them teach (or have taught) very different student populations, and teach with passion, commitment, enthusiasm, energy and creativity. And it’s not just my kids. … I see those qualities in the teachers who are members of our congregation, and in their family members who are teachers.
I’m so grateful for all the teachers who cared for me, for my children, and for all our children, with compassion and competence.
Administrators and aides and support staff make it possible for these teachers to do their work, as they create environments where learning can happen. Principals, those mopping the floors, nurses, school board members and administrators, cafeteria workers, media specialists, and so many more do jobs visible and invisible to serve our children and community.
Educating children is a vocation, not a job. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” which means, “to call.” Educating children is a call, not a career. Educators and the great circle of support staff work with parents to embody Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are grown they will not depart from it.” The way they should go – in matters of faith, in service to the community, for their livelihood. … All the ways we “go” in adulthood are the results of the ways we were trained by our parents, our teachers, our congregations, our mentors.
Two of my beloved high school teachers died this year and I’ve been reminded of how greatly their lives influenced mine. After I was all grown up and reflecting on my high school career (um, I was, by this time, all of 21,) “I made it through those rough years all because there were a couple of teachers, who, in high school, treated me as an intelligent human being with undeveloped potential who encouraged me to live, to love, and to grow.”
I pray that someone says the same of me some day.
And lest, as you are reading this, you sit back, complacent, because your children are grown, I remind you of 2 Timothy 1:5, where Paul talks about not only Timothy’s mother, but his grandmother, as influences on Timothy’s faith. No one gets to retire from educating our children. We all, in covenant relationship with God and with each other, commit to be a community for parents and children. There’s no retiring from loving and educating our children.
We are in it together.
So, thank a teacher! Let them know that you appreciate their fulfilling their calling. Buy them some hand sanitizer, or tissues, or whatever they might need for their classroom (a computer tablet?). Thank all those who work with teachers, enabling their ability to do the hard work of education. Volunteer in a classroom or school. Teach Sunday School. Help in the nursery. Live out your own vocation of “training children in the way they should go.”
The Rev. Joanne Sizoo is pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill.