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Teachers: Public School Ministers

(As the summer winds down, my teacher friends are gearing up for another school year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be rerunning some of my favorite posts about teachers as a reminder of how much educators do to make the world a better place. Let's all thank a teacher today; and let's vote for education reform that honors the good work that our teachers do and respects the value of every single student.)

First Baptist Church, Weaverville, NC (2014)

“What is a minister?” Zach* asked. (Zach always had a question, a comment, or--frequently--an outburst of some sort.)

It was Wednesday afternoon and seven-year-old Zach was one of about 12 kids in attendance at Kids for Christ (KFC). This program meets weekly after school and includes a variety of activities including Bible story time. The KFC’ers get off the school bus at the church and their parents come for them at 7:00 pm.

That afternoon I was helping Cozette, the Bible story teacher; we were focusing on Isaiah 66:13 and talking about mothers. (It was the Wednesday before Mother’s Day.) Both kids and leaders shared stories and talked about what we had learned from our moms. I showed them a picture of my mother and explained that she taught me a lot about ministry.

“When I was a little girl,” I told the kids, “My mother often cooked twice as much supper as we needed so that we could share a meal with another family. She also visited people, wrote notes, taught Sunday school, and did lots of other things that showed me how to be a minister.”

That’s when Zach’s hand shot up. “What is a minister?” he asked.

“Great question,” I told him. I wanted to answer accurately: the word itself could relate to positions outside a church. “A minister is someone who takes care of people and spends time with them. Like me, I work here at the church and I am the Minister with Youth and Children. So, I spend time with you guys and help take care of you.”

“And I’m a minister too,” Cozette, said. “I visit people in group homes and I help them with things they need.”

“Oh!” Zach said, nodding. “Like a teacher.”

Wow. What a response. See, Zach—a loveable and bright little guy who is eager to learn—is not the quietest fella you will ever meet. My guess is he does his share of squirming, speaking out of turn, and just generally pushing the limits of acceptable classroom behavior. And yet, the description of a minister, made him think of teachers.

Teachers.

Teachers. Overworked, underpaid, and up to their lanyards in standardized tests.
Teachers. Who stay after school for special events and come in early for conferences with parents or students.
Teachers. Who spend their own time and money because they love what they do and they want to do it well.
Teachers. Who take time to minister to a fidgety little boy who sometimes forgets the rules.

Teachers. Ministers.

“Yes,” I told Zach. “A minister is like a teacher.”

*Name changed for privacy.

Oakley Elementary School Asheville, NC

Thank You #2: Oakley Elementary School

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I'm writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here's number two.
Oakley Elementary School Asheville, NC

Oakley Elementary School
Asheville, NC

Dear Oakley Elementary School:

It was a conscious choice for me to surrender the first of my three children to you back in 1999. I thought about charter schools. I looked at city schools that would accept transfers from the county. I considered private schools and even homeschooling. You see Oakley, as an educator myself, I knew the importance of starting formal schooling in the right way. I was unwilling to leave this aspect of parenting to chance. After prayerful consideration and active research, I opted for you, Oakley; and you—by my home address—had chosen me.

What a divine and blessed choice that was: for ten years, you nurtured my family. Thank you for caring for us so completely. I can’t list all the ways you did that, but I want to point out just a few.

First, thank you for keeping music education alive in your school. My children loved their music teacher and looked forward to what they’d learn in her class. But music did not stop—or for that matter even start—in the music room. No, at Oakley, music spread throughout the school. One teacher provided each of her fourth graders with recorders and taught them how to play. Others used music to aid memory or productivity. At Oakley, music was the norm. That made a difference for my children and I thank you.

Thanks also for the art you have displayed on your walls. Murals abound at Oakley Elementary, saying to my children and others, “Be creative! Explore beauty! Express yourself!” Thank you for whispering those encouragements to my children daily. They heard them. I did too.

Thank you, Oakley, for hiring fantastic teachers. My children have found academics to be pretty easy throughout their lives—owing in large part to the fact that they have always had books within reach and have parents and grandparents who value academic success. People told me my kids would lose interest in the classroom. Those people didn’t know Oakley’s educators. My children’s teachers engaged students across a wide range of academic abilities. Despite having 25 students in a class, many of whom needed more instruction and attention than mine, Oakley’s teachers recognized my children’s needs and responded to them. Thank you Oakley. Thank you so much.

Finally, thank you Oakley for your diversity. My son’s first grade class included children of six different nationalities. There were kids at Oakley who were first generation immigrants and those who were third generation Buncombe County landowners. There were kids who lived in government funded housing and those who lived in million-dollar mansions. They were black, brown, and yellow, red and white, but everyone was precious in Oakley’s sight. Thank you Oakley for showing my children what the world looks like. You taught my children from an early age that friendship isn’t dependent upon matching skin or equal resources. They’ve not forgotten that lesson. They never will.

Thank you Oakley for loving us in ways that seemed to come easily for you. You have blessed us beyond measure and this mother’s heart overflows with gratitude.

Thank You,

Aileen Lawrimore

Mother of Trellace, Baker, & Margaret Lawrimore

PS Trellace will finish her Bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington, DC in 2016 after finishing summa cum laude at Reynolds High School in 2012. Baker is on a full scholarship at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Margaret, an honors student at Reynolds, graduates in May 2016. You did well, Oakley Elementary School!

That's who I'm thanking today. Who would you like to thank? Comment below to let me know!