AN ENCOURAGING WORD: "Until the Bell Rings"

It always seems strange to me that public school starts in mid-August. In the '30s and '40s school did not start until mid-September, or later because we had to pick cotton and gather corn. If we could not finish gathering the crops by the time school started, we changed into work clothes as soon as we got home from school and worked until dark. However some modern vacation-worn parents tell me they are glad to have school start in August!

School teachers are the certifiable heroes in our social structure. They are overworked, underpaid, and often under-appreciated. They are the stopgap against ignorance and second only to parents as the most prominent source for teaching civility in a society where civility is sorely needed and often missing. There are people who are critical of our schools and teachers. Though there is always room for improvement, the opinions of the critics would be different if they tried keeping order in a crowded classroom while teaching children from eight until two-thirty 5 days a week for a whole school year. To make it a realistic experience, the critics would also need to support their families on a teacher's salary and listen to widespread criticism of their work.

When you take your children to school, tip your hat to the teacher, and say an encouraging word.. They are your best friends in helping ensure your child's future.

Whatever we accomplish in life we owe to a long line of teachers whose lives and lessons have influenced us. In some cases we may have forgotten the specific lessons, but we seldom forget the specific people who taught those lessons. Many think the yardstick for measuring good teaching and good learning is the extent to which a student remembers the details of the lessons or the score on a standardized test. I do not remember very much of the detailed content of the lessons taught the first 12 years of my education (except the multiplication tables, vocabulary and how to construct a sentence), and standardized tests didn't even exist, but I do remember the teachers who taught me to think and made me want to learn. I can see their faces and remember their attitudes toward me and the other students.

Every time I write (and try to punctuate) a complicated sentence, I see my high school English teacher, Miss Annie Hagood, standing at the blackboard diagraming that sentence. My high school career ended 64 years ago, and the dear lady who taught me is long since dead, but as long as I write and speak the English language she will still be alive.

When I was in the tenth grade, the wife of the principal of our rural high school informed her husband that she would like to teach Latin. He suggested that it was not likely that rural children would be interested in Latin. This self-willed, white-haired lady informed her husband that if he would approve the class she would recruit "interested" students. The next day, during recess, Mrs. Weathers walked across the playground with a clipboard in hand and drafted nine students for her Latin class. Only after I was a grown man did I appreciate being selected as one of those "interested" students. (I certainly was not selected because of my academic excellence or my "interest" in the subject at the time.) Even today when I am able to understand the meaning of some strange word of Latin derivation, I tip my hat to that beautiful, white-haired lady who would so often shake me by the hair of my head or crack my knuckles with a ruler and say, "Now read that sentence in Latin again and tell me what it means in English." I realize that you do not teach and reinforce your lessons like that anymore, but you can teach almost any way you want to teach if your lessons are laced with love.

Teaching has always been the profession from which all other professions emerge. Whatever your profession, from heart surgeon to Walmart greeter, somebody taught you to do it. Members of every profession must pass through the hands of teachers. We subtly move from the role of student to the role of teacher in life, and back again. All of us are teaching something every day from simple addition to calculus; from skipping rope to brain surgery. We are teaching and learning how to live in the family and how to live in a world. We are teaching and learning whether to respond to rudeness with kindness or aggression, and whether to treat diversity with acceptance or ridicule. We are not always aware of the fact that we are teaching or being taught, and the lessons we teach and learn are not always from a book.

Life is a classroom. We are all being taught, and we are all teachers -- until the bell rings.