Twisting the knob and opening the door, gliding into my older sister’s kindergarten class without a word, I collected the children around me. They sat at my feet, legs crossed with wide-eyed wonder as I opened a bright-colored children’s book to read to them. The birds twittered and cooed outside the classroom window, and the clean, white counters glistened in the sunlight. Even the class guinea pig, Skippy John Jones, sat still for the story time and appeared to listen intently.
This may all sound too good to be true for a public school setting, but as I drove down the road toward the Okmulgee Primary School, indeed, that was the picture I had imagined since being invited to read to my sister’s class. The beautifully-scripted Snow White-esque setting quickly dissipated as I stepped into the small town school.
The secretary buzzed me in, much like that time I visited a Nicaraguan prison on a mission trip, and directed me towards one of the back classrooms. Quoting Psalm 23:4, as I walked down the cinder block hallways, my fabricated image of this experience rapidly faded from Mary Poppins to The Great Escape. Finally, on one of the doors I read “Miss Hanzel’s Classroom” and walked in. The picture was indeed different.
Children with sticky hands and runny noses traded chewed-on crayons and dried up glue sticks. Little boys threw paper wads at the little girls, while the little girls doodled flowers instead of focusing on their project. There in the midst of this organized chaos was my sister.
Jess is quite possibly the most patient and compassionate person I know. She appeared to glide across the room as she put out fires (hypothetically of course), patted the focused child’s head, reclaimed sharp objects, affirmed the discouraged boy, prepared the next station, intervened before the start of WW III, cleaned the countertops and more tasks than I could ever list.
Even as I read the funny children’s book to her class of close to 30 kindergarten students, she cleaned, prepared, disciplined and patiently cared for the classroom.
I learned a few things from my sister that day, but three specific things come to mind:
- Teachers are sacrificial. I haven’t witnessed many other occupations where there is such great sacrifice of personal finances, time, effort, tears, laughter and frustration. Teachers like my sister give and give, receiving so very little in return – a small Christmas bonus or a sweet thank you card on the last day of school are about all they get.
- Teachers are the bee’s knees. I don’t know about you, but I do not like wiping kids’ noses or cleaning up after dozens of 5-year-olds, let alone attempting to teach them math! Teachers are some of the coolest people in the world, and most of the time, they LOVE what they do. Even when it’s hard, most teachers will admit they just can’t quit the amazing thrills of a kid who finally gets it, or a parent-teacher conference that ends with a positive resolution, or an exciting moment when the guinea pig teaches the kids something new about the eating habits of a mammal.
- Teachers are often forgotten. We remember to honor (and rightly so) servicemen, doctors, nurses, law enforcement, athletes and even politicians. But so often, we forget to recognize the men and women who, too, have laid down their lives for this country in the form of servitude and instruction of the next generations. Their families, spouses, personal dreams and finances are laid down, so that children in this country might receive knowledge and education. We forget this sacrifice all too often.
Tomorrow, Oct. 5, is National Teacher’s Day. Do something to show your teacher, your child’s teacher, or your grandchild’s teacher how much they are appreciated. Gift cards, notes, class volunteering and getaways are just what these leaders need to be reminded of their value. I would write a hundred checks or read a thousand kid’s books for my sister’s classroom if it meant I wouldn’t have to lead 30 kindergarteners to a potty break.
My idea of how my sister’s class would be was far different from the reality of the hardships actually faced on that mission field called “school.” Let us commit to pray for our teachers – whether it’s a Mary Poppins or a Great Escape kind of day.