From the Prophet Isaiah:
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens —
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Isaiah 50:4 (NRSV) – February 1, 2013.)
“The tongue of a teacher” is a such a ripe and fruitful image — it calls to mind all those wonderful people who are so formative in our lives. I remember particular teachers from throughout my life who have been and still are forces that formed and form who I am.
I’ve spent the past few days laid up by a case of viral enteritis with all of its unpleasant symptoms and so the first teacher to come to mind is my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Hancock. My most vivid memory of her is from a day when I was similarly ill and my father had to come to school to pick me up; I have other memories of Mrs. Hancock, but I especially remember how gentle and solicitous she was to a sick five-year-old.
In the Sixth Grade my teacher was Miss Upton. I was in love with Miss Upton, but she married during spring break and broke my heart! I think I fell in love with her because of how she dealt with the class the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I’m sure she appreciated the tragedy of the day much more than her group of 11- and 12-year-old students and was probably more upset than we were, yet she was a solid rock of calm and reassurance.
There were many others – Mrs. Weckle and Mr. Sallee in high school – Dr. Dykstra and Dr. Marcuse in college – professors in graduate school, law school, and seminary – and, of course, the many, many informal teachers we all encounter throughout life. All those people who have been given “the tongue of a teacher.” It is not the subjects they teach that makes them memorable; it is the way they taught, the way they lived their lives that infused their teaching.
Yes, teachers teach “subjects” – the nuts-and-bolts of mathematics or literature or property law or koine Greek. But more importantly a good teacher teaches how to learn and how to live. Good teachers foster critical thinking skills so that, given a concept, a student may go beyond the facts of the day and deal with any matter he or she may encounter. Great teachers foster critical living skills so that a student may go deeper than the mere facts and encounter the truth.
I thank God for Mrs. Hancock, Miss Upton, and all those to whom God has given “the tongue of a teacher” in my life.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.