If you can think about things, thank a school teacher
Written by W. Evan Golder
November 2002

Evan Golder

The UCC is interested in supporting public schools and those who teach there.

Whenever I asked Miss Lawton a question, she made me try to figure out the answer. Which way does the tide flow in the Strait of Magellan? How could a pitcher plant really eat bugs? I entered the sixth grade thinking that teachers should teach me things by telling me things. When I moved on to junior high, I knew better. Miss Lawton had insisted that I think for myself.

In high school, Miss Salthouse was the bane of my existence. For two years she taught me French. She made me learn it so thoroughly that even today, five decades later, French cognates pop into my head whenever I study Spanish before traveling to Central or South America. Although her subject matter was French, Miss Salthouse really taught me discipline. While the whole class waited, she would make me stand in the aisle—her 4'10" and my 6'2"—until I pronounced soeur (sister) correctly, until I got it right. Again. Again. And again.

A little book published last year brought these teachers to mind. The book, "I Remember My Teacher: 365 Reminiscences of the Teachers Who Changed our Lives" by David Shribman, contains squibs by such luminaries as George Stephanopoulos and Ellen Goodman, Clarence Thomas and Paul Wellstone.

This year another book about teaching caught my eye: "Stories of the Courage to Teach: Honoring the Teacher's Heart," edited by Sam M. Intrator. This series of essays celebrates teaching and teachers. "Though regard for teaching is a lost tradition, teaching, miraculously, is not a lost art," writes Parker J. Palmer in the foreword. "Every day in classrooms across the land, good people are working hard, with competency and compassion, at reweaving the tattered fabric of society on which we all depend."

The month of November, with its season of Thanksgiving, is a good time to stop and thank a teacher. Think of a teacher who encouraged a gift you didn't know you had. Or one who treated you as an individual instead of a category. Or one who bought materials with her own money. Or one who gave up his evenings or weekends for a special project. Or one who persisted in getting through to you when you had given up. Or one who insisted that you do your best when you were willing to settle for less.

Although these characteristics could apply to any teacher, the UCC is particularly interested in supporting public schools and those who teach there. From our Puritan forebears in New England, who required that every town of 50 families hire a school teacher, to the most recent General Synod, in Kansas City, which called upon the UCC "to proclaim public school support ... as one of the foremost civil rights issues in the twenty-first century," our church has reaffirmed the value of universal public education.

So far more than 2,500 persons have responded to a survey by the UCC's public education task force. According to Jan Resseger, the UCC's minister for public education and witness, the results show that UCC members "continue to hold very broad, ambitious expectations for what public schools should accomplish..." One pastor from the Indiana-Kentucky Conference expressed why: "I believe the worth of every individual as a child of God means that the community shares a responsibility to educate each child."

In public schools I learned that what I think matters, and that my curiosity is a gift, as is my ability to follow through on a project and my persistence to get it right. And for that I give a loud merci beaucoup to, among others, Elsie Salthouse and Edna B. Lawton.

I only wish I'd told them that while they were still living.

The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.

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