They Who Teach Ought Make a Difference

I had in my karate class many years ago a sweet young lady who had just graduated from college. Her degree was in education. “Mr. Lopez, I have two job offers. One is in Dallas in an affluent school district. The other is just the opposite, in the Rio Grande Valley. I don’t know which offer to accept.”  This was no ordinary young lady, She was clearly a person living the highest Christian ideals. “Well,” I ventured. “Are you determined to make money, or do you want to go where you can have the greatest influence on your pupils? Dallas is where you will be most comfortable financially. In the Rio Grande Valley, on the other hand, your influence will be great. Because of your love for the children, you will mold and change many lives for the better. They will never forget you.” She went to the Valley.

Now, more than ever, teachers of quality are needed. Indeed, teachers of high moral standards, who inspire, and imbue in their students the desire to be more, ever more, that they might be enabled to reach their full potential. We need inspired teachers; positive teachers who see potential where others see a lost soul; teachers whose influence and faith in mankind is such that they become saviors to those who have lost hope. The great orator and senator, Daniel Webster, put it thus: “If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; but if we work upon immortal minds, if we imbue them with principles and the just fear of God and love of our fellowman, we engrave upon those tablets something that will brighten through all eternity.”

I had such a teacher. She was my mother. Indeed, every mother is a teacher. She has no greater work than that of teaching her children, for she sets the foundation, directing the course her children will follow. My mother was supported by my father, whose wise counsel influences me still. One attribute common to the two of them was their unquestionable love for their children. We were loved, and we knew it.

But mother also taught in the public schools, assuming that role from 1940 to 1948, in what was then a Mexican American School. She was the only Hispanic teacher on the staff. The rest were German American. Her standards were high. No other teacher of mine ever set higher expectations. She groomed me with the mindset that, “unto whosoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” Role models and mentors were to be found in the best of books. I came away from my first trip to the public library at age six, with a child’s biography of Abe Lincoln. My second book was George Washington’s biography. The best of books, only the best of books were acceptable. Who has time for less?

Her English was flawless. She expected the same from her children. I have no degree in English, but I had a mother whose command of the English language approached perfection. Further, she spoke a pure Castilian Spanish, and expected me to learn the same. About the time of my twelfth birthday she presented me with a copy of renowned Spanish author, Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s novel, “Mare Nostrum.” Only the best of books would do.

Public speaking?  My mother prepared talks for me to give in Church. My stance, my gestures, the rise and fall of my voice, a pause in the proper place, where to place emphasis, all of this she taught me, and then I delivered the talk in Church. The talk was in Spanish. I was nine years old! There were many, many, such talks while I was yet a boy. How grateful I am for a mother who taught me the art of public speaking! I write in the manner of my speaking. If it sounds good as I speak it, so do I write it.

As a school teacher, she loved her pupils, and incredibly, her influence lingers still. Some years ago, my little son and I ran into an elderly couple. “Come,” the lady cried out to her husband. “This man is Miss Cantu’s son.” (Cantu was my mother’s maiden name). “Your mother,” she recounted, “was not like us.” She was a lady, a grand lady. No matter what I was doing, she always made me feel I could do better.” Such was my mother’s influence on that couple that they guided all four of their children into the field of education. Today, one is a school administrator and the others are teachers.

I learned from my mother that if we are to influence those we teach, we must love them. We are to influence our charges in such a manner that their desire will be to look beyond that which is crass and common, and instead to reach for the infinite.

Our first and greatest influence ought be in the home. The home. One day we will understand. Did anything outside the home matter more that which was taking place within the walls of our own home? What of titles, fame, and recognition? We will realize then that all are as dross, and if in the end they come at the cost of time which could have been spent with our children, they will have been hollow achievements indeed.

Oh, let us pray to see with clarity, that we may understand and make time for the things that really matter. Let us make time for the things which matter most.

Help me teach with inspiration;
Grant this blessing, Lord, I pray.
Help me lift a soul’s ambition
To a higher, nobler way.

Help me reach a friend in darkness;
Help me guide him thru the night.
Help me show thy path to glory
By the Spirit’s holy light.

Fill my mind with understanding;
Tune my voice to echo thine.
Touch my hand with gentle friendship;
Warm my heart with love divine.

Help me find thy lambs who wander;
Help me bring them to thy keep.
Teach me, Lord, to be a shepherd;
Father, help me feed thy sheep.

(Lorin F. Wheelwright)

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