Elwood Yoder recently joined The Mennonite online’s blogging team. He teaches history in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has taught high school history and social studies courses for 34 years, since 1988 at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels. Elwood is Editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian, and he is also Editor of Today, a publication of Eastern Mennonite School. He writes a history column in the Virginia Mennonite Conference Pathways periodical.
A student who graduated from the school I teach in reached out to me this summer and thanked me for my teaching. She gave me a very nice Facebook message compliment about excellent instruction, using my gifts and impacting many. A graduate of 14 years ago, she gave me a note that I have printed and pinned to the filing cabinet by my classroom teaching desk. I will look at it and draw inspiration from it each day I teach this year.
With school bells ringing again, I’d encourage readers to thank a teacher. When you look around at church, go into the work-a-day world, or consider your neighborhood, teachers are everywhere. Teaching is hard work in today’s world, with a host of standards and requirements, and one little word of thanks or encouragement can go a long ways towards nurturing the spirit of a teacher who works with children or youth.
Parents occasionally bring food for the hungry teachers in my school. We teachers hover around the lounge tables eagerly devouring whatever the generous parents have brought to us. Whether in private or public settings, encouraging the teachers of your children or grandchildren would be a big plus to starting this new school year off on the right foot.
I have a dedicated box in my classroom where I keep cards, notes, e-mails, photos, or other items that come my way as encouragements to me as a teacher. Occasionally, on a bad day, I’ll look in the box and pull something out to remind myself of what I’m doing and why.
In spite of the rapid changes in technology, and the implementation of needed and innovative new methods, the teacher remains the central most important component of any classroom.
At our church we recognize this. On a Sunday at the beginning of the year, we pause and applaud children going to school for the first time, and then we go all the way up through university professors, asking educators and students to stand in turn and be acknowledged, thanked, and then prayed for. It is a wonderful way to begin the school year.
After writing the first draft of this blog, and then going to my classroom to prepare for the new school year, I came home to find a thank you card in the mail from a senior who graduated this past June. This fine student applied to one of the most competitive universities in Virginia and he got wait-listed. One day in class this past spring, he asked if I would write another reference letter, because sometimes an additional letter makes a difference. Only days after I wrote the letter, he walked in my classroom one morning just beaming and announced that he got in. We high-fived and celebrated together, realizing that he had just made an important turn in his life. His card is a keeper for me, another encouragement to do my best as the school year starts again.
On the wall in my classroom I have long kept an oil portrait of the colonial American schoolteacher Christopher Dock. In the painting, Dock is praying over a roll book with the names of his students. Dock innovated in his teaching, he prayed for his children, and at one point in his career, he tried to leave teaching, but was pulled back to his real vocation. Some years ago I too tried to leave teaching, for two years, but was pulled back to the classroom. Having worked at the teaching trade for over three decades, I still get a thrill when the first bell rings on the first day of school. Like Christopher Dock, I’m called to teach young people, and I will do that to the best of my abilities in the coming year.
If you get a chance, thank a teacher today.