The couple has found that part of their calling in these schools is not just to the children, but also to the teachers who serve those children. Cheryl has taken to performing regular acts of kindness for the teachers — showing up in the teachers’ lounge with a plate of cookies, or stopping by the main office to give a hug to the administrator in charge of discipline.
“I tell her, ‘I’m sure you’ve had a rough day today. Can I give you a hug?’ I just never knew it would make such a difference. [They] feel so supported,” said Cheryl.
Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The Crisis in the American Dream, laments the decline in social capital (how we are connected to others and care for them) with its devastating impact on poor children today. Past generations of poor children often had more opportunities because they benefited from connections with churches, teachers, coaches, and other mentors who supported them. Putnam, a respected Harvard sociologist, documents how too many children are missing these caring adults in their lives today. He offers "purple solutions" to the growing "opportunity gap" and poverty that includes support by all for public schools.
Many churches witness to their concern for school children with a "Blessing of the Backpacks" service. Some churches invite the children in the congregation to bring their own backpacks for a blessing before a new school year begins. This is a way to acknowledge that school is a common yet very important part of our children’s lives. Other churches collect school supplies for children in need, assemble the donated supplies in backpacks, and bring them to church for a blessing in worship.
The tune of the following new hymn is the same Gaelic melody used for "Morning Has Broken," and it seems appropriate to sing a joyful "morning" tune as children, parents, and teachers start to get up earlier in the mornings to head off to school.
Recent attacks by Somalia’s al-Shabab Muslim militant group have forced the closure of dozens of schools in Kenya’s north, as Christian teachers refuse to work because of security fears.
The crisis follows the massacre of 148 Christian students at the Garissa University College in April. The predominantly Muslim region relies on Christian teachers for its schools, but those teachers have been singled out by the terrorist group because of their faith.
“Teachers left and did not report back, so some schools have since closed down,” said Roman Catholic Joseph Alessandro of the Garissa Diocese.
They taught English, gym, music, and fifth grade, and are typically described as “beloved” by their students.
But that didn’t stop the Catholic schools where they worked from firing these teachers for their same-sex relationships, or, in one woman’s case, for admitting that she privately disagreed with church teaching on gay marriage.
A recent spate of sackings at Catholic institutions — about eight in the past two years — is wrenching for dioceses and Catholic schools, where some deem these decisions required and righteous, and others see them as unnecessary and prejudicial.
As a teacher, I tend to change the channel or radio station when the news turns to issues related to schooling and education. It is difficult to listen to people discuss aspects of my daily experience as if they were a part of it. When a news story involves an act of violence in a school or a natural disaster wreaking devastation on children and school employees, I am almost less likely to listen. It is too painful to think about what that would be like for me, my colleagues, and most importantly, my students.
When major news networks began playing a recording of suburban Atlanta school employee Antoinette Tuff’s 911 call reporting a shooter in her school’s building on Tuesday, I almost turned off the TV. Then, I heard Tuff’s calm voice interacting with the shooter as though as he was any distraught child in the office needing extra attention. I started to listen.
The announcement was broadcast at the end of the day over the school’s public address system.
"Our Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 is ... Mr. Barton. Congratulations!"
I walked out into the third-grade hallway where students were lined up for dismissal. Little hands reached up and patted me on the shoulder. Small voices joined together and called out, "We're proud of you, Mr. Barton!" Alondra, a quiet student, pulled me close and said, "Thank you for being my reading teacher." I was honored and humbled.
As I walked back into my classroom, I reflected over my five years teaching at this Title I elementary school. "Who am I, what have I done, to become Teacher of the Year?" I asked myself.
Today, Sojourners is launching a new project called Emerging Voices, and it’s one of the most exciting things I have been involved with for a long time. It aims to mentor, develop, and promote the most dynamic up-and-coming communicators — speakers, preachers, and teachers — who so clearly are called to lead and publicly articulate the biblical call to social justice.
The vision for this project is exciting and something to be celebrated. It also calls to mind a critical observation: Our world often wants saviors, not prophets; new messiahs, not leaders.
We want heroes with superhuman strength who save the day, not mere mortals who speak the truths we typically don’t want to hear. Even the modern day giants of social justice — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Mahatma Gandhi, for example —were at best prophets, but never saviors.
It’s easy to slip into the mentality that one person, one voice will rise up in a generation, and that he or she will change the world as we know it. Perhaps we even think, “Maybe I will change the world.”
“What do you want to be when you grow-up?” is the pressure filled question that people begin asking as soon as they feel young people are old enough to answer.
From there it only gets worse. It’s a question I hated answering. Adults and media filled my mind with careers that would make me financially secure and, in their minds, happy. So these careers filled my answers: doctor, lawyer, and pharmacist. I would be something important, and life after college would be financially easy.
I babysat often through high school and remember a mom asking the dreaded questio
"Teachers are builders," said my friend. "You build safe learning environments for your students. You build safe spaces for your parents. You build knowledge and experience for yourselves. You build community with each other. You are builders."
I like her image.
This year I'm going to work on the 'building community with each other' part.
Every school day just after 2 p.m., Sandra pushes her cart into my classroom to clean the bathroom and empty the trash cans. She is the school custodian and my students love her. When students hear her squeaky wheels in the hallway outside our door, they listen for her kind giggle as she enters the room. "Ms. Sandra! Ms. Sandra! Can I help you empty the trash? Can I help you?" they yell out with their hands waving in the air.
She responds, "Jennifer, you look so cute today! How you doin' VicTOR? Francisco, baby, you look like you're doing a good job for Mr. Barton. You come on over and help me today. Anna, honey, that's okay, you can help me tomorrow." She knows all of my students by name.
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There is something fundamentally wrong with our education system when the draws of a huge salary and big bonuses consistently trump the aspirations and dreams that were front and center in our lives just four years earlier. Debts, a lack of job opportunities in other fields, your basic standard-issue panic — or maybe a simple absence of imagination can take hold and send us running into the arms of the recruiter with the flashy suit, a Hollywood smile and promise of a better life.
As Terkel reminds us: “Young people will continue to go work in the financial sector as long as its pay is disproportionately higher than alternative careers. It's basic human nature: Follow the money.”
But what would it look like if we didn’t follow the money? What if Wall Street paid no more than schools or hospitals?
What would our economy look like if these leading young minds chose not to work for big banks and consultants, but instead were the teachers that helped turn failing schools around, the innovators and engineers who were designing products that would create thousands of new jobs?
What needs to be done so that the finest members of the 2012 graduating class head to Main Street instead of Wall Street?