STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 70

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 70, May 22, 2020
“For our teachers”

2020 Graduation signs are posted in front yards in our small town and I am pretty certain they are in front yards all over our nation. I am pleased to know people are making every effort to honor our graduates. On this Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, a day when our thoughts turn to the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, I ask you to join me in a moment of remembrance for the ones who have taught our graduates. I ask you to join me in a moment of remembrance for our teachers.

One of the great losses in this whole pandemic has been the opportunity for teachers to have a fitting farewell with their students. As I share with you the final words one teacher had with her class, may we all take a moment to remember the sacrifices our teachers make as they buy supplies with their own checkbook, arrive early, stay late, work deep into the night, struggle with the students who struggle, rejoice with the students who succeed, and most importantly care for each of their students like a shepherd cares for their flock.

The following farewell is from Jonathan Kozol’s book Ordinary Resurrections. “Saying goodbye to children in the final days of school is hard for teachers everywhere. They’re all your children now and you don’t usually like to let them go.” Miss Frances Dukes is a second-grade teacher in P.S. 30 in the south Bronx of New York City. “Miss Dukes is a strict and loving teacher with good old-fashioned tenderness, and that last day of school is filled with rituals that many of us remember from our own best days in public schools.”

It is a day when things are a little more relaxed, but Miss Dukes still maintains structure. Miss Frances Dukes still keeps instructing. When Tabitha reads a story about the boy who cried wolf, Miss Dukes praises her for her progress. Although Tabitha mispronounces “woof”, she receives profuse praise. Miss Dukes relates how Tabitha couldn’t understand a single word in the fall, but through hard work and lots of tutoring from Miss Dukes, Tabitha now reads well.

The day is filled with final instructions. This is the last shot for Miss Dukes. She says, “I want the boys here to remember this: When we come into the world our mother cares for us. But when our mother is very old and she is getting ready to depart the world we have to care for her. So I want every boy here to grow up into a good strong grown-up man, so you will always be there for your mother.” Then she adds, “Don’t ever miss an opportunity to tell your mother that you love her.”

The class celebrates birthdays. Elio has turned nine. He has a brand-new tennis racquet on his desk, a present from another teacher. Miss Dukes holds it up and she asks Elio, “Did you know that I play tennis too?”

“You do?” he says.

“I do!”

The idea of their teacher playing tennis seems surprising to the children. She’s such a dignified lady that it’s hard to picture her in shorts and jersey running back and forth across a court chasing a ball. She then surprises the kids by telling them she also likes to rollerblade. The children treat this like a scandalous confession.

In the afternoon a group of girls who have just graduated from the fifth grade come to tell Miss Dukes goodbye. Next year they will be in middle school, but they make a point of seeing Miss Dukes before they go.

It is two-fifteen in the second-grade classroom. All the kids are now in their chairs. Now Miss Dukes begins a very tender speech. “This year we had 29 children in our class, and I think that everybody knows that was too many. Next year, I’m afraid you may have even more…so you need to respect your teacher, and each other, and be good in every way, and if you are, if you’re polite, you’ll save your teacher’s voice—because you know how many troubles I had with my throat this year.

“I’d like to see some of you children go to college and work hard so you can study to be teachers. So all of the mistakes your teachers made when you were growing up, you can be sure you’ll never make. So you can be much better teachers to your students than I was to you.

“And this summer, above all, children, please be safe! And never talk to strangers who approach you in the street. And, every night, please put a book beneath your pillow.

“And be good to your mothers. And listen to your mothers. And be respectful to your mothers. And those of you who will be going to your grandma’s for the summer, please don’t let her give you too much candy.

“All right then…”

“Goodbye, Miss Dukes!”

“Goodbye, children.”

All right then…,” she says again.

“Goodbye!”

“Goodbye!”

“All right then…,” the teacher says, “I love you.” (Jonathan Kozol, Ordinary Resurrections, 307-313)

The Coronavirus has taken so much from so many, but one of the losses we must not forget is that our teachers did not have that last day to say their tender farewells. That’s a huge loss. I have tears in my eyes as this beautiful image of Miss Frances Dukes morphs into the teachers who touched my life. Remembering my teachers, Miss Dukes becomes Mrs. Jones, a fourth-grade teacher who holds a very special place in my heart. Now Miss Dukes becomes Butch Cardoza, a teacher and a coach who believed in me. Now Miss Dukes becomes the whole math and science department at Hanford High School, a dedicated team that sparked a love for learning that has been carried on in countless lives, including many who followed in their footsteps and became teachers themselves.

Now Miss Dukes becomes the ones who teach in the Spring of 2020, the ones whose school year was interrupted in an unimaginable way, the ones who said goodbye one day not realizing they would not see their students again that whole year, the ones who will not have the privilege and the honor of standing before their students on the last day of class in 2020 and saying, “All right then…all right then…all right then…goodbye children…all right then…I love you.” I know I am not alone in having an undying respect and appreciation for the ones who are called to teach. If you share that respect and appreciation, would you stop for just a moment and give a prayer of thanks for the teachers you know. What teachers do matters. What teachers do makes a difference. What teachers do honors Jesus Christ, who one day stopped everything he was doing to open his arms in welcome, saying, “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne