It may seem like I am veering off the path today but I want to write on the role of the teacher in one’s life. Of course, when Billy Graham uses the term teacher, he is referring to an individual with the spiritual gift of instructing others in Bible knowledge and knowledge about a life in Christ. This calling is important because Christians need help in their growth as they try to apply God’s word into their thinking and conduct.
But I want to get personal; many know that I am an adult Sunday school teacher, a job I do not take lightly, a job that instructs me so much as I prepare to instruct others.
I love teaching adults but it is more than that: I love teaching.
As I reflect back on my life, I can see that I was destined to teach because I loved and respected teachers from the first days I went to school.
Certain memories stand out in my life. I know it sounds very “nerdy” but I used to get excited about going to school, using books, using paper and pencils and pens. I loved the excitement of learning new things and looked forward to being in the classroom. My father was a teacher, his sister was a teacher, my cousin was a teacher, my wife was a teacher…indeed all my life I have been surrounded by teachers.
When in seventh grade, I had a teacher who was a master of the English language. Mrs. Anna Belle Sherer made all her students “diagram sentences” and I learned to love the English sentence. I got great joy out of seeing patterns in language and solving the mystery of finding the subject and the verb and mapping out the other elements of sentence structure. Her diagramming gave me a sense of power over words.
In college, I had two teachers who impacted my life so much, special teachers. Mr. Ben Jones was an intro to literature teacher who made me ponder the meaning of literature, digging deeper into the meaning of the words. He helped me understand the literary elements of theme, plot, symbolism, characterization. He even inspired me to try to write my own stories. When I dropped out of college and considered never going back, he took the time to write me a personal letter. That important piece of writing got me back to college and on track to finish my degree. He knew I belonged there and when he took the time to write to me, I knew I needed to complete what I started. His words were powerful.
Dr. William McMahon was a man who had “rough edges.” To use an expression, he would “suffer no fools” in his classroom. He taught advanced composition, a class open only to English majors. His reading assignments were so hard that I had headaches trying to understand the material. He loved making us analyze philosophers from many cultures. We read the Greeks, far eastern philosophers and contemporary German philosophers. Reading the material was hard enough but commenting on it was intimidating to say the least. I got a B out of Dr. McMahon’s class but it was so hard that a C would have been acceptable. To this day, I know what sentence style means, manipulation of the balanced sentence, the loose sentence and the periodic sentence and what that can mean for one’s writing. He had an English punctuation system that made perfect sense to me and informed me on how to use punctuation not only for correctness but also for effect.
I began school in 1957. Folks that is a long time ago. I loved school so much that I completed several degrees in English and speech communication. I was told by my darling wife that I loved school too much and after my terminal speech communication degree, she said “any more school and I divorce you.”
I had to be an independent learner from 1991 on and at that time in my life I was really far from being a Christian with a personal relationship with Christ. I was afloat with little direction in my life until 1998 when in the midst of one of the greatest crises in my life, I found Jesus Christ.
I have had many great teachers in my life. I can go back in my mind to 1964 and see the diminutive Mrs. Sherer in front of the classroom, explaining participles, gerunds, infinitives. I can see Ben Jones encouraging his students to open their minds to literature that seemed so closed. We began to see it, understand it and love it. I have Dr. McMahon in my mind, standing in front of his sparse classroom, intimidating us all with his weighty discussions, demanding that we produce good work. Pulling us all up to a higher level, going higher than we ever imagined we could go.
Could those types of people teach the Bible? Could those types of people be Sunday school teachers? Could they be seminary professors?
Of course they could. They weren’t my Bible teachers but they were excellent teachers, inspiring teachers.
What those teachers did for me was light the fire of curiosity that still burns within me. I have been inspired by Bible teachers since 1998. I wanted to know as much about God as I could learn and I still want to know Him more. Some of my instructors have been in the Sunday school classroom, some in Bible studies but some have been my teachers one-to-one. Some people’s lives have been instructional, as I have watched them deal with issues that would cause ordinary people to crumble, but they walked through the fire with humility, grace and loving understanding.
I am humbled to be a teacher. I take my role seriously. As a Christian, I need help in my growth as I try to apply God’s word into my thinking and conduct. I do this through learning and I do this through teaching.
My aunt, who was a school psychologist and a rector in the Episcopal Church, graced my life with many pieces of writing. One of the clippings she gave me was a “Graduate’s Prayer.” The last two lines of the prayer are addressed directly to God and they fit so well into this post. I have to end on them: “And may I ever be aware in everything I do / That knowledge comes from learning / And wisdom comes from You.”