Whatever we think of the state of our public education system today, there is no denying that being a teacher is one of God’s holy callings. Being a parent is difficult enough, requiring patience and restraint, smarts and courage. But they are, after all, your own flesh and blood, and we seem to feel obligated to do our best to see that our own turn out well. (Most of us anyway.)
However, can you imagine what it requires to do this for someone else’s children? Some schools are for children resembling spoiled pets, who have never heard a reprimand or had any rules or criticism, resulting in a child feeling quite entitled. Many children from many cultures have never felt that love and compassion that we take for granted. Too many “me-first” parents who dump the kids off the first chance for someone else to “deal-with;” There’s just not enough time to spend with their spouse (if there is one), and certainly not for these inconvenient creatures. Funny how some parents only have 24 hours in a day.
I come from a family of educators. Mom taught and was a guidance counselor for forty years, my two sisters are teachers: Tina for years in Mobile, and Maureen still does in St. Louis. I think I’m pretty objective, but yeah, some of this is personal.
My wife Sharon has taught exceptional needs and disabled (ESE) children for over a decade, lately in a Title 1 school, where 90% of children can’t afford lunch. Almost exclusively minorities, most are from neighborhoods my friends don’t even know exist: The projects. A trailer behind a warehouse. A neighborhood that rots with the stench of crack, weed, old beer and urine. Most don’t know their father. Many don’t know either parent. These children are the least of our brothers, and although most do not endure the poverty I witnessed in Haiti, they may well have more despair and frustration, and certainly less love and hope. School is the highlight of their day. Many find their only food there, and some stay as late and return as early as they are allowed, because there is no electricity at home for lights to study by.
Their teachers smile and encourage, love and encourage. They aren’t allowed to hug them, but do so regularly. These are role models for these kids. They know their names and treat them with respect and dignity. They share stories about siblings, and piece together familial stories. Based upon this, home visits with a teacher and her principal, along with a social worker or the law sometimes is required to check a story out. Sometimes without merit, but these “leads” often put an end to unfortunate abuse when scars and bruises are noted at school.
Shar has bought as many shoes and socks for her students as she has her own children. Sometimes there is a need for a change in clothes, because of an embarrassing body or urine odor. You think children lack self-esteem from not having a new cell phone, or new $200 Nike’s? Try walking with your head held high when there’s no electricity or running water at home to bathe with. Children at these schools can be cruel too, and disparaging comments cut deepest when they are true. Teachers notice drooping heads, eyes on the floor, and little to feel good about.
My wife is one of the most incredible people I know. The strength, compassion, love and empathy she exudes is contagious. I find it almost impossible to pass someone with a cardboard sign now without rolling the window down.
Two weeks ago I went to (another) Matt Maher / Audrey Assad concert with my daughter Emily, and (of course) they were begging for Compassion International sponsors. For $38 a month you get a picture for your refrigerator of a third world child, and knowledge that you have fed, clothed, and educated them. Sharon, was quick to explain that we had “sort of” already done this.
I’ll omit the names for obvious reasons, but Sharon teaches two children of a family with six. Both of these kids are behind their peers developmentally and intellectually. One is what we used to call “retarded,” and may well never be able to function independently in society. None of these six children have ever had what “we” would consider a “typical” Christmas. Their father works hard as a gardener (field hand?) and handyman, and provides as best as he can. They do have water and electricity, and usually ample rice and beans on the table.
This year, the teachers and the PTA took the initiative and approached many of these families to ask what a nice Christmas would look like. Without hesitation, Shar found their family name on the tree in the teacher’s lounge. Each of the children named something that seemed reasonable, certainly not the frivolous “must-haves” for most of America. At 40 or 50 bucks apiece, it was a bit of a stretch for us, but well beyond the reach of a family like this that struggles to provide food and clothes after the rent and utilities. One wanted towels for her mom and tools for his dad.
The day before Christmas break, the students were allowed to go to the “School Store,” to purchase items for family and friends at a nominal cost. Sharon gave $3 to each of the six to buy something for themselves or a friend. The children pooled their money and bought their Papa a flashlight, and their Mama a necklace and brooch. Our “disadvantaged” family had children that had never been able to give their parents a present. This year was different.
Sharon described them walking from class to the bus as if walking on a cloud. Heads held high, and smiling from ear to ear. They were so anxious to see their parents reactions on Christmas morning! The parents won’t have the only happy faces on Christmas morning.
Like Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, Sharon and her principal delivered the packages to the baby Jesus on Friday.
Please know that although Sharon is an exceptional teacher and an exceptional person, she is not alone. Teachers are a special people. Please remember financially our unfortunate families and children, but also remember those who feel called to this profession in your prayers. The work they do with our children, the time spent into the wee hours grading papers and planning, and the money they take out of their own pockets for their classroom supplies is unknown to the general public. Pray for our teachers, and if you know one, tell them how much you appreciate them.