This past Wednesday approximately 20,000 educators from across North Carolina gathered in Raleigh on a rainy day for a “March for Students and Rally for Respect.” This was the largest political rally by teachers in North Carolina’s history. The importance of education was proclaimed loud and clear. I applaud their actions.
The story of our nation’s founding is filled with many recognizable names: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and many more. But mention William Small and most Americans don’t have a clue who you are talking about. He didn’t serve in the Continental Congress or write the Declaration of Independence, but his student did. And Thomas Jefferson was quick to say that it was Dr. William Small, his mentor and professor at William and Mary, who “probably fixed the destinies of my life.” He said Small was like a father to him and for “his enlightened and affectionate guidance of my studies while at college I am indebted for everything.”
For every Thomas Jefferson there is a William Small. For every great leader there are dedicated teachers who have been influential and transformational; teachers who have recognized great potential, providing affirmation and guidance as they have gifted their students with the resources to discover their God-given greatness.
I probably would have never been a public speaker without the persistent guidance and encouragement of my 3rd Grade teacher along with my grandmother and great-aunt, both of whom were retired educators. They drilled me on the art of public speaking, helping me to work through a speech impediment, instilling confidence and courage with each speech I delivered to my class. Even though I was assigned an inordinate number of speeches compared to the rest of the class, those 3rd Grade orations provided the foundation of every speech and sermon I have ever delivered.
I am grateful to my 6th Grade teacher for helping me to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be. My 10th and 12th Grade English teachers opened the doors to creativity in writing and speaking. My New Testament professor in college opened my eyes to a new world of Biblical interpretation as I came to realize that I didn’t learn everything there was to know about the Bible in Sunday School. My Philosophy professor taught me that a minister of the Gospel should be filled with kindness, humility, and respect for all. My seminary professors challenged me and demanded more of me than I thought possible. I learned how to love God with all of my mind. The intellectual disciplines were liberating, and the truth did indeed set me free.
The eloquent wordsmith of the Declaration of Independence was convinced that the education of the common people was foundational to the security of a free society—and not just the education of the wealthy and the elite. He believed that nothing was more important in government than providing an education for all citizens, “from the richest to the poorest.” I have no doubt that Thomas Jefferson would have approved of the rally in Raleigh on Wednesday.
The Apostle Paul said we must “study to show ourselves approved of God.” But how shall we study without a teacher? And how shall they teach unless they have adequate resources? And how shall we provide the resources unless we are committed to education?
Public education must be a top priority for our state and our nation. It is not right that teachers have to pay for classroom supplies and snacks out of their own pockets. Teachers are gifted professionals who have answered a calling to lead their students on a pilgrimage of truth and discovery. They deserve better.