Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
Miss Kingree, Mrs. Barnes, and Mrs. Wesson were already teaching legends at my high school when I was a freshman. Barnes and Wesson taught algebra; Kingree, first-year English.
All three were farmers and all three were tough. At some point, they each walked the halls with pretty serious farm injuries. But they never missed a day of class – as I said, they were tough. Forty-plus years later, I can look at their photos in my high school yearbook and still get that feeling in my stomach that they might call on me in class. But they were also good, very good. They had honed their teaching skills to the point that, despite all of our collective efforts, we left their classes smarter than we arrived. I thank them now when I appreciate a great book or analyze a basketball bracket.
Education is wonderful – and important. It’s been an emphasis in the Reformed tradition since the beginning when Calvin wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible. Presbyterians have carried forward that emphasis through a long history of starting, building, and supporting education – from one-room schools to entire universities like Princeton.
Educators have been the key to it all. Many of our ministers have been teachers. And it would take all of my algebra skills to calculate how many elders have been, and are, teachers and principals.
I have to confess that I don’t understand the current debate that characterizes teachers as privileged public employees. Truth is, they really don’t have summers off. They spend much of that time taking required courses. And they don’t go home at 3:00. But even if they did, they’d still carry with them heavy bags of papers to grade.
When did attitudes about teachers change? Perhaps it was when we went to whiteboards instead of chalkboards. Gone are the days when students used to beat erasers on the outside school wall to clean them as punishment for bad behavior. I wish those days were back: There are some public officials and television commentators who need to stay after school and clean those erasers.
The Reverend Gradye Parsons is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).