George A. Bowers Sr.: Thank God for teachers
The end of August foreshadows many things in the Shenandoah Valley. It not only signals the advent of ragweed season, but it also heralds the Shenandoah County Fair as well as the beginning of another school year. Students who have been on hiatus contract that pit feeling as they realize Labor Day Tuesday is right around the corner.
What many students don’t realize is that teachers experience these same emotions. Having spent 17 years in a public school classroom, I can empathize with all the educators whose schedules are about to drastically change. Faculty meetings, curriculum workshops, bulletin board displays, and seating charts are all part of what will happen next week as teachers prepare for the invasion of students. They will be preparing for another year of making differences.
Except for my family, teachers have had the greatest influence on my life. From Mrs. Wilkins in kindergarten to Ms. Garman in senior government, and from Mrs. Sibert who taught me to love Virginia history to my agricultural teachers who took me all over creation, educators have played key roles in my life.
I cannot mention every great teacher I’ve been blessed with, but each was vital in building and shaping me. Some poured the foundation, others laid the block, while still others did the framing. Some painted while their coworkers did the roofing. While none did all, each did their part in helping me to grow and develop. I imagine the same is true for every reader.
The nearly 1,000 teachers, staff and support personnel in Shenandoah County will do that same work this year for the thousands of students they will greet each day. Many of them will spend their own money to buy supplies that we failed to budget for and will pay for students’ meals when parents either forget or won’t have it to give. They will stay up far into the night grading papers and planning for the next day after arriving home from a field trip or competition long after their families will be in bed. Many will spend more time with their students than parents will.
As teachers get ready for the next nine months, I want to encourage those of us who aren’t teaching to pray for them. Society has saddled them with a heavy load. Not only have we charged them with the daunting responsibility of preparing our children for employment, but we increasingly add to their job descriptions. We’ve always expected them to model good values, but now we demand that they solve all of our social problems. We expect them to monitor the physical and mental health of their students as well as their social media accounts. We want them to prepare our children to meet the challenges of the twenty first century using last millennium’s tools and technologies.
While we say we value their efforts, we often demonstrate otherwise through disparaging remarks. Instead of rewarding their hard work, we expect them to continue to labor for pay that is far below others in professions that are less altruistic and require less education. And before we refer to June, July, and August as the three best reasons to teach, let’s remember that many of these professionals are attending classes during those months, often at their own expense. If you take the total hours teachers expend throughout the school year and compare it with other occupations, I doubt that many, if any of us, would be willing to change places for either their workload or their salary.
Instead of highlighting the vast majority of excellent local teachers, we often point to the occasional bad apple in the national media. We are very blessed in this county to have dedicated professionals who teach because they love kids. Many have sensed God’s call to teach and they work their guts out to see our kids succeed.
When God sent his son to earth, he chose to send him as a teacher. He too was disrespected, underpaid, and devalued, but his labors continue to impact our world in very positive ways. In a similar fashion, the work of today’s educators will endure for many years in the students they touch, bearing much good fruit throughout their lifetimes. My hat is off to our teachers. And I will keep it off in the months to come as I pray for them and their students. I invite others to do the same.
In Jesus, George
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books, including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.