Enchantments of the call to teach
Jan. 14, 2001
It may be true. Reading Harry Potter can warp one's sensibilities. For example, I have become wary of anything addressed in emerald green or purple ink. But there it was. An envelope taped to our front door. With my name in purple ink.
At least there were no strange occurrences or owl feathers. The envelope contained a six page journaling exercise by a teacher friend. But the note was about wizardry. That's right, a personal journal about magic. The enchantments of the call to teach.
You know about teaching. The process of helping people acquire knowledge, skills and values. Teachers, you may recall, are those who labor to help the rest of us learn.
Actually the note was a lament prompted by a column I'd done about our schools. The author agreed with my assessment that we undervalue kids and those who would teach them. She put a personal face on the financial limitations resulting from the decision to be a "teacher."
However, what started as a kind of "pity the plight of the poor professor" monologue ended with profound affirmations about the joy of the teaching-learning transaction. Her bottom line, in spite of all the irritations and limitations was, "I arise each morning eager to go to school."
Later that morning I got another reminder that there are people who esteem teachers and their calling. This one came from a very unexpected source. One of my buddies is an non-partisan critic of political figures. An equal opportunity hatchet man.
This guy enjoys trashing Gov. Musgrove and those "tax and spend liberals." And in the next breath he will target Dubya Bush and "those right-wing ideologues." He seems to revel in disrespecting not only the individuals but the offices as well.
But Monday he actually said something kind about both the Governor and the President-elect. The context was a conversation about school improvement. One of those "and what can be done to get better performance from our schools?" exchanges.
After fifteen minutes of frothing about low achievement he said, "At least we've got a chance to do better. Musgrove and Bush are married to real teachers. They have at-home experts who know how it is in our classrooms."
Simplistic, sure. But nevertheless, profound. I am among those who believe leaders are influenced by their personal histories and their private lives. Supper conversations about schools and school children among state and national policy makers can have big time results.
And in my afternoon mail I got a package from one of my favorite education champions. An alumnus of Stevenson Primary School, Meridian High School, Meridian Community College, and Mississippi State University, Frank Charles Winstead retired from a distinguished career in Georgia's schools to a new career as an "advocate for excellence in America's classrooms."
Retired but still teaching, Frank is a communicator. A real message builder. His long tenure as chief of learning resources or media guru in one of the largest and best school districts in the south still finds expression in his work. Frank Charles also remembers where he came from and who helped prepare him for life's journey.
And he wants to help prepare others. Frank is building endowments with The Meridian Community College Foundation to provide scholarships honoring six Meridian teachers "who made a difference" in his life. And while the endowments develop, he annually funds six $1,000 a year scholarships to honor these teachers.
Those of us who know "Frank Charles" or who have heard him speak, know the stories behind each of the "student-teacher" relationships he honors. He is permanently bonded to those who nurtured his development. From the fifth grade teacher who opened learning for a kid who had repeated a grade, to the camera club sponsor who shared skills that became basic to his chosen career.
The package from Frank Charles was a collection of note cards he has created. Each card features a sepia tone photograph of a schoolhouse scene from 1900 to 1935. The photos are accompanied by quotations. One liners, for the most part.
For example, "A school is four walls with the future inside." Or my favorite, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Incidentally, these notes cards are available at the Lifetime Quest Center at our community college. And the proceeds help fund those scholarships Frank has created.
One of Frank's note cards uses Abe Lincoln's words to remind us, "A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. They are going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important."
And what do we think is important? My journaling teacher friend observed "my worth as a teacher is not in an envelope that I receive on the last day of the month, but in the student who gives me a hug on the first day of school after Christmas holidays. . ."
She is absolutely correct. She knows what is important. And because she is correct her work will always be worth more than that envelope contains. We'll never be able to afford paying the good teachers what they are worth. But we do need to attend to the envelope gap. Why? It is our future inside those four walls.
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.