The start of a new school year is, for many teachers, the resumption of a ministry. That’s how these teachers who are also Christians view their vocation.
While public school teachers can’t proselytize or pray directly with their students, they are doing God’s work as surely as those in circumstances that allow it. By tending to the needs of all children from all walks of life, of all sorts and conditions, they live their faith in the trenches every day.
Photos in the Daily Journal of the first day of school in Tupelo and Lee County this week showed the perennial ritual of reluctant kindergartners leaving the security of their parents’ embrace for the care of their waiting teachers. What a leap of faith that requires for the parent, and what a responsibility that teacher takes on.
Each child comes into the classroom, whether for the first time or as a seasoned school veteran, as a unique individual just as precious and valuable in the sight of God as each of his or her classmates. It’s the teacher’s job – or calling, as many see it – to understand that uniqueness in each student and to determine how to help develop that child’s God-given potential to the fullest.
If parents are a child’s first teachers, a teacher can surely become a child’s second or third parent in a manner of speaking. In the time that they have a student, teachers may exert an influence second only to the student’s home environment.
The best teachers intuitively understand that and willingly accept the enormous burden of that responsibility. Many of them do so because they believe it is what God has called them to do, and that strengthens them in their daily challenges.
In recent years, public schools and public school teachers have been maligned in some circles as secularist or even godless. One denominational leader even called on Christians to pull their children out of public schools.
These gross generalizations bear false witness against the legions of teachers and administrators whose faith guides them and whose care for the “least of these” – the poor, the vulnerable and the deprived – is at the heart of what Jesus commands his followers to be about.
It’s sometimes said that God has been “kicked out” of public schools because the courts have outlawed organized prayer led by adults. What an affront to the power of God to suggest that he could be kicked out of any place, much less where most of the children he created spend their days.
Public schools are the community melting pot, the place where people gather across lines of race, economic status, religion and every other barrier. God is there, as surely as he is anywhere, and God’s faithful are numbered among those who minister in those schools to his children.
Many of those teachers, it’s safe to say, pray daily for their students and for God to give them the patience, wisdom and skill to have a positive impact on the lives of the children entrusted to them. It’s incumbent upon people of faith to pray that prayer for teachers, too.