EDITORIAL: A sacred rite

The beginning of a new school year marks the renewal of a sacred rite – teachers teaching and children learning.
It is “sacred” in a very literal sense. Every child has unique God-given potential. The process of identifying and unleashing that potential – the heart of what good teachers do – is a holy undertaking. At its best, it is about helping a child become the person God created him or her to be.
Teachers can’t do it all, of course. Their students arrive already shaped and formed by their families and external influences and experiences. But teachers who care about and get to know their students can and often do exert significant positive influence on their lives.
Teachers are underpaid and often underappreciated; that goes without saying. Some get defensive in these days when greater accountability is being demanded, and there’s no question that test scores are an imperfect means of measuring the overall effectiveness and impact of a teacher’s performance. So much more that can’t be measured quantitatively goes into making a good teacher.
At the same time, higher standards and greater accountability for teachers are really about taking the intrinsic holiness of that student-teacher relationship seriously. Making sure teachers are actually helping the children in their charge is about ensuring good stewardship of perhaps the most important public trust there is. Every child is precious in the sight of God, and to knowingly leave any child in a classroom with a poor teacher has to be less than what God expects.
Teachers in public schools can’t proselytize about their faith, but many of them serve as models of Christ-like faithfulness. The public schools welcome all who come through their doors – they can’t pick and choose based on innate academic ability, social status, economic class, or race – and this engagement with all children is gospel work. So, too, is the blending of all sorts and conditions of people into a collaborative, productive learning environment – a challenge teachers must meet every day.
The faithful teacher opens minds to the wonders of God’s creation and to the joys of learning more about everything in it. This is not easy work, nor is it the reality for every student-teacher relationship. But even in the effort itself, and certainly in the successes that follow, the teacher receives her reward not in wealth or prestige, but in the satisfaction that comes from giving of oneself for the sake of another.
That, of course, is the heart of Christian theology, faith and witness. The idea that God has somehow been “kicked out” of public schools is daily discredited by the witness of God-loving teachers everywhere whose faith both informs and strengthens their calling.
Last week, children throughout Northeast Mississippi came to school again, sent by parents implicitly trusting the teachers who will teach their children to have their best interests, and their full development, at heart. Those teachers welcomed the children with open arms, literally and figuratively, with hopes of their own. That is a sacred covenant, and God is unquestionably in the midst of it.

NEMS Daily Journal