As another school year draws nearer to a close, I’m thinking of teachers and thanking God for them, especially now. My mom and Angie’s, too, were schoolteachers, and I come from a generationally long line of teachers, including the current generation of aunts, uncles, nephews, and cousins. I am grateful for them all, and especially for the gift of being married to one of the finest teachers I have ever seen, too. (I haven’t forgotten that I work for a Teacher – THE Teacher, Rabbi Jesus, too.)
My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Pauline Bryant. She ran her own kindergarten out of her home in Kentwood, LA. I was four years old, nearing five, living in the parsonage of the Osyka Baptist Church, Osyka, MS, where my dad was the pastor and my mom taught school, sang in the church choir, and lovingly cared for her four little children at home. Mrs. Pauline taught us to love, play with abandon, and be friends. Somewhere, I still have the photos my mom saved of the day Mrs. Pauline let us wear our Halloween costume masks to class (I was Yogi Bear). What fun it was to learn and learn to be.
My first-grade teacher was Mrs. Ruth Hooker at Greenbrier Elementary. We had moved to Baton Rouge just before school started and into the parsonage next door to my dad's new church. Mrs. Hooker taught me that learning was an adventure, that it was okay to trust adults other than parents, aunts, uncles, and grands, that we should be honest always, and that doing your best was the best you could do and should do. She had three “Roberts” in the class. Mrs. Ruth had a little confab with the three of us on the first day of school to decide who she would call “Robert” and who “Bob” and who “Bobby.” The three of us were delighted by the outcome. In my case, I got to keep my nickname and “Bobby” was written in large teacher print on the paperboard cutout taped to the front right corner of my desk. Hearing Mrs. Hooker say our names, though, no matter what the name, was a gift for what we heard her saying in the tone of her voice was, “love, respect, care, and do your best,” in calming reassurance. (She was, also, the first teacher I had who could see what the class was doing with those teacher eyes “in the back of her head” when she faced the chalkboard to write. :)
My second-grade teacher was Mrs. Turner. She helped us through intense, confusing feelings in child-appropriate ways after the assassination of our president in November 1963, something I have prayed no teacher ever has to do again in any lifetime – how naïve to think that now that being a teacher means preparing for lockdowns and procedures to protect their children from violence. My third-grade teacher was Mrs. Evans, who taught us that because we were 8 years old, it was time to grow up some more and act like it. My fourth-grade teacher was Mrs. Thornhill, who helped us be sensitive to the feelings of classmates whose fathers were in Vietnam and in danger – and I could go on. Every teacher I had as a child was special. I remember them and thank God for them to this day.
Today, I'm thanking God for teachers and for the power they have to shape our lives.
Join me today in saying a prayer for all who lead through service and sacrifice, and especially for teachers who put to use God’s gifts of courage, wisdom, preparation, and love.
Pray, too, for the rest of us – the village, so to speak – to have the wisdom to sustain and nurture the spirit of excellence in teaching through supportive partnerships that value teachers for who they are and what they do. In our days, it’s more important, life-critical – and stressful – than ever.
Grace and peace,
(Image, Welcome to New Students Bulletin Board, Conway Elementary School, Conway, SC, August, 2015)