May 16, 2020

Thank a Teacher

I once saw a billboard that gave me pause for thought. The sign read: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” 

It wasn’t until that moment I made the mental connection that my ability and love for reading (and writing!) were instilled in me by my elementary school teachers. These included my mother, an elementary school teacher and grammarian par excellence, who never missed an opportunity to correct my grammar or to take advantage of a teachable moment.

My mother encouraged me to participate in the summer reading program at our local public library. Not only was I enriched by the interesting books that I read — biographies, books about history, people of other cultures, science, animal stories, and more — but when school started each fall, my schoolteachers encouraged and affirmed me for reading 10 or more books over the summer. 

Reading classes in school were always fun, challenging, and engaging. I have no doubt that my adult years spent as a writer and editor, as well as my lifelong passion for learning, are a result of the excellent foundation provided to me by skilled, caring, and dedicated teachers.

Each year in public and private schools around the Unites States, the first week of May is earmarked for teacher appreciation. Traditionally, the second Tuesday of that week is known as Teacher Appreciation Day. Of course, our expressions of appreciation to those whose influence we value should not be limited to one day or one week out of the year. But Teacher Appreciation Week provides a special opportunity to recognize and affirm in a public way those who have made a meaningful and lasting impact on our lives.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we feel that education — Christian education — is near and dear to our hearts. This work is so important, in fact, that Ellen White tells us on page 8 of Christian Education that “the early education of youth generally shapes their character for life.” She goes on to say that the work of the Christian teacher involves more than laying a good academic foundation. A Christian teacher, she said, should “feel the necessity of having an equal interest in the physical, mental, moral, and spiritual education of his scholars.” White wrote volumes on the value of education and the qualities of good teachers, all of which underscores the vital and lasting influence that teachers have on our lives.

With that in mind, I’ve asked a diverse group of people, including administrators, educators, parents, and homeschooled students — from Christian, public, and home school settings — to share their thoughts on the qualities of good teachers and how they shape our lives for the better. Here’s what they had to say:

“Great teachers have a positive, forward-thinking desire to inform and assist students. The one quality is a selflessness to consider what is best for another person. The teacher that finds their model in Jesus Christ finds this quality available to them.

“The importance of teachers is that they are the most essential thread in the fabric of society. Without a teacher, the life we take for granted would not exist in the next generation. From motherhood, life support, communication, transportation, finance, health care, government, ethics, they all sit on top of good teaching.” — Jerrell Gilkeson, Atlantic Union Conference Education and Children’s Ministries director

“Teachers are so important in our lives, because were it not for teachers, none of us, including teachers, would be where we are today. They’ve been mentors, confidants, and comforters; they’ve encouraged, and inspired many to heights otherwise unattainable except for their teachers, who set the bar high and believed in them.

“God gave us parents as our first teachers. He even came to this earth and modeled the qualities and characteristics of a Master Teacher. He met people where they were, then nurtured and inspired them to grow continuously. Teachers who follow Christ’s teaching methods are important, because their ultimate goal, as that of the Master Teacher, is to prepare their students not only for this life, but for eternity.” — Desiree Bryant, North American Division (NAD) Department of Education assistant director and projects coordinator 

“My son Kennicko had a hard time with English grammar and punctuation. So I made the decision to hold him back a grade. One teacher who had a great impact on my son and me was Mrs. Tota-Francis, who was his fifth-grade teacher both years. She had so much love, understanding, and patience, and she motivated him to want to do better and get better grades. Then I had to make a decision — either keep him in public school and expect him to fail or put him in private school and help him succeed. I chose Bermuda Institute.

Another teacher, Mrs. Tull, made Kennicko so comfortable with her kindness and warmth during his adjustment to starting a new school. She even pushed him out of his comfort zone, going above and beyond the call of duty. During the preparation for the hurricane last year, I got caught in traffic. Mrs. Tull not only waited with my son, but offered to drive him home. Her help and support are making our experience at Bermuda Institute an enjoyable one.” — Calvonnae Jones, Bermuda Institute parent

“A good teacher is someone who has the ability to develop relationships with their students; is patient, caring, and kind; knows how to engage students in learning; models Christ; loves their subject matter, and is a lifelong learner. 

“Why are teachers so important in our lives? Next to parents, teachers influence learning, enforce core values and beliefs, are cheerleaders, motivators, and coaches who impact transformation and curiosity. They help to establish an Adventist worldview, establish boundaries, and instill lifelong skills and work ethic.” — Arne Nielsen, NAD Education vice president

“My children are now 24, 22, and 20 years old. During the years I homeschooled them, I often wondered if I was giving them enough — enough academic challenges, enough structure, enough downtime, et cetera. To listen to them now, when they sit around the table sharing homeschool tales, is an interesting and laughter-filled experience.

“Thank God, they have pleasant and positive memories of homeschool! The academic foundation was laid, however imperfect it was, and, thankfully, they all attest to not feeling inadequate in any way with their peers in the classroom. But what keeps coming up in their conversations are the lessons they learned that weren’t necessarily part of a formal curriculum.

“As they go through life, they regularly draw from the lessons they learned from relaxed, informal discussions we had during our time together; the character-building stories I read to them, as well as the life skills they learned and fun times they shared while playing around in the woods surrounding our house. These lessons are the things they go to when faced with difficult decisions while ‘adulting’ that, I believe, was an unexpected, but important, part of our homeschool.” — Debra Banks Cuadro, Atlantic Union Conference assistant communication director

“As a teenager, I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want to be homeschooled, but looking back, I am grateful to my parents for making the right choice. Through homeschooling, I discovered how I learn best and have been able to use that knowledge to continue to succeed in a variety of professional and academic environments. Not everyone is given that opportunity, and I only wish I had recognized what a gift I had been given earlier in life. Because we were schooled at home, my brothers and I learned not only what could be borrowed from books, but also had the chance to
learn to be responsible young adults.

We, in some ways, were able to teach ourselves about some of the things we found interesting, and I hope to one day be as patient as my mother was when it came to our experiments and adventures. I will always treasure those years at home and, as I grow older, I love and respect my mother for the sacrifices she made to give us the best of everything she had.” — Autumn Banks, 24, recently graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology

“A good teacher reflects the character of Christ, which is demonstrated by the fruits of the Spirit. Good teachers are gentle, kind, patient, courageous and have the eternal salvation of our students in the forefront of their mind. Good teachers have a strong work ethic, a happy countenance, and are flexible when unforeseen challenges arise.

“A teacher guides and facilitates the curiosity and inquisitiveness of students as they explore in wonder their Creator and that which He has created.” — Frederick M. Burghardt, New York Conference superintendent of schools

“Teachers spend more time with our children than anyone in their life. The course of a nation/society depends upon teachers for preparation for jobs that we don’t even know exist. That is why helping students develop a passion for learning and cultivating creativity is often more important than content. Teachers also help develop a character that will be fit for heavenly citizenship.” — Trevor Schlisner, Northern New England Conference superintendent of schools

In what ways has a teacher impacted your life or the life of someone close to you? As you ponder this question, think about some thoughtful way to express your appreciation to him or her. And remember, you don’t have to wait until Teacher Appreciation Day to do it. Now that you’ve read this, go and thank a teacher!

The original version of this commentary appeared in the April 2020 print edition of the Atlantic Union Gleaner.