Many professions draw public
attention like a slice of watermelon draws flies. Those who practice those
professions are constantly in the news. They provide abundant fodder for verbal
If it isn’t the
money they make, it’s the company they keep or the trends they set or the
controversy they create. Their notoriety is somewhere between amazing and
appalling. In modern society, they are significant and often irreplaceable,
even though we sometimes wrestle with that fact. Admittedly, the honest ones far
outnumber the spurious. But—as is always the case—the lunatic fringe sells tabloids,
so those with integrity are often forced to practice their professions against a
tide of misunderstanding made worse by stormy winds of suspicion.
There is one
profession, however, that is neither notorious nor controversial. If anything,
it is virtually ignored. Although essential to the bright future of the world
and inseparably linked to the home as few other professions, it has been
treated with disregard. Underpaid and underappreciated, those who make their
living in this field press on against overwhelming odds. They live with
criticism they usually don’t deserve. They invest extra hours for which they are
rarely thanked and never compensated. They maintain a standard of excellence
regardless of resistance. They remain enthusiastic in spite of daily
discouragements. They apply creativity and every motivational technique they
can muster without loud applause or verbal appreciation from their recipients.
With dreams fueled
by inner hope rather than by evidence—and with determination based on hidden
potential rather than on actuality—these brave men and women shape minds,
stretch imaginations, challenge thinking, and best of all, model consistency.
They have one major enemy, whom they fight with tireless energy: Ignorance. Although he snarls in defiance,
clothed in the armor of prejudice and defending himself with the sword of
pride, he is forced to surrender to his skilled opponent. Knowledge inevitably
wins out. Thankfully, truth still makes free.
And who are those
commanding the winning side? Who are the relentless, courageous heroes I’m
describing? By now you know.
They are those who
subject, teachers ply their skills in classrooms large and small all over the
globe. The tools of their trade may not seem that impressive—a piece of chalk,
a book, a computer and a screen, a homework assignment, a smile of
encouragement, a nod of affirmation, a strong word of warning, a grade, a
project, a question to answer, a problem to solve, a commitment to stubborn
facts, tact and timing, a provocative idea—yet these tools are the very
instruments that sharpen keen edges on otherwise dull minds. How powerful are
those adept with such tools!
Think of some who
taught you. Consider the lifelong value of their investments. My head spins
when I do so. Because of good teachers, my entire world expanded from tiny to titanic.
In classrooms, I learned to read, to love books. I learned to speak without
stuttering. I learned to appreciate the arts. I learned to play the piano and the
clarinet, the flute, the saxophone, and the oboe. I learned to think on my feet,
to answer tough questions, to stand alone without fear when armed with truth. I
learned to love biology, English literature, and history. I learned to think
theologically, to preach with a measure of confidence, to use the original
languages in my sermon preparation, to discern weakness and error, to deal with
difficult problems and ornery people.
Dedicated, intelligent, competent mentors. Tough-minded, clear-thinking, ever-learning
educators who gave me their time and invested in me their attention, who early
on overlooked my immaturity, who saw raw material behind my talkative nature,
overactivity, and mischievousness . . . who refused to get sidetracked, who
held my feet to the fire and dared me to grab the challenge, who had enough
wisdom to drop the bait in just the right places to hook me for life.
To all of you who
teach, I salute you. Yours is an invaluable profession. It is a debt that must
be discharged, a calling as sure and as high and noble as the ministry (and
sometimes far more effective), a model we cannot live without if we expect each
new generation to remain strong and free. Don’t quit. Don’t even slack off.
Stay at it. If ever we needed you, we need you today.
C. S. Lewis expressed
it well in “Learning in War-Time” from The
Weight of Glory:
Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to
be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on
the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect
altogether. . . .
The learned life then is, for some, a duty.1