September 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 2

The Word Means Teacher

By Rev. Ray Petrucci

Photo of blocks spelling out the word SchoolFor millions of adults and children, the season of teaching and learning has arrived. School doors are flung open in welcome for all those in pursuit of knowledge and, it is hoped, wisdom in the months ahead. The roles of teacher and of student are defined at numerous levels with particular obligations attached to each stage. Teachers go about the business of conveying information, illuminating the young intellects before them in the task of becoming competent learners, imbuing the skills needed for analysis and discernment, and instilling the importance of growing into responsible and productive adults. This is a humbling mandate.

Like clergymen and politicians, teachers must appreciate their vocation as a sacred trust. The teacher standing in front of a class of students looks upon a widely disparate assembly of human beings in regard to family experiences, socialization, maturity, personality, and talents. Accomplishing desired goals among this motley group will test the perception, abilities, and wisdom of the teacher. We know that teachers themselves fall into the same categories as their students. They need to give self-examinations along with the examinations that they give to their youthful charges. Expression of personal beliefs must be clarified and must fit within their subject matter. A teacher must be aware of the influence they have in shaping and swaying the young minds in front of them. Given the content of a particular course, the teacher must present themselves honestly and offer their instruction clearly and justly. Manipulation and deceit are too easily rationalized and the long-term effects could be devastating. Although these affirmations and caveats may dissuade some from the profession, the work itself bears an importance and nobility that those drawn to teaching ought not to ignore. The need of an educated citizenry has been emphasized by more than one of our Founding Fathers as a necessity for the safeguarding of our freedoms.

In a commencement address by the noted author and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, he used an adapted version of the poem What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali to underscore the value of teachers:

"The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued this way. 'What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher? You know, it's true what they say about teachers: Those who can do, do; those who can't do, teach.' To corroborate his statement he said to another guest, 'Hey, Susan, you're a teacher. Be honest, what do you make?'

"Susan, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness, replied, 'You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could and I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. I can make a C-plus feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor and an A feel like a slap in the face if a student didn't do his or her very best.' Susan continued, 'I can make parents tremble when I call home or feel almost like they won the lottery when I tell them how well their child is progressing.' Gaining speed, she went on: 'You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder, I make them question, I make them criticize, I make them apologize and mean it, I make them write, and I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math and hide it all on their final drafts in English.' Susan then stopped and cleared her throat. 'I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart. And if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make in money, you pay them no attention.' Susan then paused. "You want to know what I make?' she said. 'I make a difference. What about you?'"

Photo of a school busIn the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Evangelist exclaims that the Word was made flesh. The Word, Jesus Christ, is God dwelling with His creation. He came to proclaim the reign of God. This proclamation was a teaching that the people understood as new and authoritative. Jesus had to employ every skill of the teacher in inviting hearts and minds to come, see, and believe the message of salvation. In the manner of an artful pedagogue, Jesus used all the creative instrumentalities of a teacher - and miracles as well. He openly invited children, the most able of students, to approach Him and to receive the teaching of the Kingdom. One only has to look at the ministry of Christ in order to appreciate the momentous worth of the act of teaching. In some real way, we are all teachers. Do not shrink from the duty; it is a function of fruitful service to the Creator. For there is the One who knows our plight, marks our fears, and hears our pleas. Jesus Christ - the Word - is Savior, Healer, Guide, Protector, and... Teacher.