Praying for Perspective: Have Ya Heard?

Today’s education system would do well to learn from the greatest Teacher

By George Valadie

You can imagine the scene. You may have seen it or possibly experienced it for yourself. It’s an annual event, coming around with the same regularity as Christmas or Easter or Groundhog Day.

I was standing in the grocery store line behind a lady who was checking out. Being that she had bought a good bit of the store, I had a good bit of a wait. So I was thumbing through the magazines, reading up on all that stuff inquiring minds want to know.

A second lady joined the line behind us and hollered ahead to the shopper in front of me.

“Hey, how ya doing?”

“Great, when do you start?”

“Won’t be long.”

“Are you ready?”

“I’ll never be ready.”

“Good luck!”

“Thanks, I’ll need it.”

I felt as if I had walked up in the middle of a conversation, yet I knew I had been there first. The context wasn’t earth-shattering, but I was curious. What exactly was getting ready to begin in this lady’s life? What was it that needed luck?

My wife had done some physical therapy; was she facing that? How about a new job or a new responsibility at her old job? Those are all good things and the “good luck” would come in handy.

Or maybe it wasn’t going to be good at all. Was chemotherapy in her future, or a visit to Alcoholics Anonymous? I can slip to the dark side in a hurry. Sometimes ‘good luck’ isn’t good enough.

When it was my turn to check out, yet another woman joined our line. Turns out everybody knew everybody in this store … except me.

“Hey, how ya doing?”

“Great, when do you start?”

“Won’t be long.”

“Are you ready?”

“I’ll never be ready.”

“Good luck!”

You’re getting the picture.

They had my interest piqued now. Not normally an eavesdropper, I couldn’t help but turn a keen ear. Inquiring minds had to know.

And then it all became clear; I felt better for this stranger once I knew the truth. But I also understood why her friends worry about her.

She is a teacher. And her school would be starting soon. A lot sooner than it used to. Summer is hardly here before it’s gone. Or so it seems. And I know just how she felt because I’m never ready either.

I don’t know exactly what it says about the state of our schools, but it doesn’t seem all that good when our teachers are wished “good luck,” as if going off to war. And for some, I know it has become just that.

Her days, mine, and all the rest around the country are more challenging days than they used to be.

NPR news stated, “The teaching force is ‘a leaky bucket, losing hundreds of thousands of teachers each year — the majority of them before retirement age,’ according to a report from the Learning Policy Institute.”

There are lots of reasons. The expected curriculum has expanded from academic subjects to include the expectation that schools will now tackle topics such as emotional stability and Internet safety. “But stay away from morality and Christian justice.”

Students arrive as native speakers of technology, while many of us teachers are fighting to catch up.

They also arrive as creatures having enjoyed way too much “instantaneous gratification” in their lives. It’s a blessing of the 21st century when you don’t have to wait all that long to get your Whopper or an e-mail. But working diligently for long-term goals isn’t the everyday skill we see as often as we used to.

Schools and teachers are more frequently forced to earn the sort of loyalty and support that older parents gave so freely. Doubts and questions precede thanks and appreciation. It can wear on you.

The monthly fire drill has expanded into a list of “dire drills” to also prepare for tornado and earthquake and active-shooter possibilities.

Salaries and resources that could be better and too much emphasis on grades over learning all help to flesh out the details of the picture.

It could begin to sound like whining — I hope not. I certainly don’t feel that way. Just an appreciation of why folks wish us well.

After all, there aren’t many of us who didn’t willingly and knowingly choose one of the greatest professions on earth, blessed to have been accepted into a profession where we get to influence the future in ways untold.

But amid the chaos, the bureaucracy, the bad press, and the fear of being yet another on the growing list of school victims on the evening news, we’d do well to recall the world’s greatest Teacher … no desks, no chalk, no state certificate, but He had a darn good message.

If we keep it that simple, every day will be a good one.

Dear God — Kids go buy their school supplies; teachers need to get theirs from you … patience, inspiration, and grace. Some will ask, some will not. Please bless them all. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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