Teachers must work to be good

Clyde Davis

Thank you, John Timmerman. When we had you for freshman English, we looked up to you. We thought you were a good teacher. So the day we came up to talk to you, having heard that you pitched college baseball, we wanted you to join our intramural softball team.
Since I was going to be your catcher, I was selected spokesman. We walked into your open door office and you greeted us with, “No! Get out of here! If you three need some place to hang around, go to the library. This is my office, not a student lounge.”
Thanks, John. You showed me one big glimpse of what I didn’t want to be as a teacher. In return, we spent the rest of spring term showing you how many ways 18-year-olds can mess with someone’s head.
This column is dedicated to all of the good teachers, a category in which I am sometimes arrogant enough to almost include myself, by virtue of trying very hard. That’s not false modesty — it takes heavy dedication and talent to call oneself a good teacher.
Two students gave me a silver cross for Christmas that says: “God bless our teachers, for they’ll take a hand, open a mind, touch a heart.”
There’s a reality to that, and the teachers, among you reading this, know that we treasure those gifts precisely because they tell us that we are following our calling, at least in some cases, in a way that impacts a student’s life.
Some time ago, I helped a young fellow get his GED — he’s now preparing to be a cop. Among other graduation presents he gave me was a picture book titled Teachers Are Terrific! At our best, we are. When we are. …
n We believe in our students — so we challenge them. Any freshman English class I greet may have the one who holds the cure to heart disease, the one who will bring world peace, the one who will establish a business empire, the one who will develop agriculture to feed the world — but he, or she, will never know it if I don’t prepare them to write on a college level.
n We are transparent — which also means we have to clearly be the leader. I’ve learned over the years that it’s good to let my students know me as a person — but only after I’ve gained their confidence that I am clearly the leader and know what I am doing. We are, after all, role models and nobody can role model after a plastic person.
n We are flexible — we are sure enough in ourselves that we can change a grade (if deserved), give a break, or bend a deadline without feeling compromised. Students have lives, and sometimes those lives go chaotic — why break somebody’s spirit by following the “rules?”
n Most of all — we love our students. Love includes transparency, flexibility, and believing in, but the Church defines it best — a commitment which seeks the greatest good for the one who is loved. Sometimes, that greatest good may involve failing someone so they learn for the first time that all does not come easily.
Teaching should be a calling, not just a job, and I’m writing this because, for the past 60 years or so, it’s been popular to stomp on educators for the actions of a few. Who were your mind-opening teachers?
(This column is dedicated to Regis Ruane, Sandy Kitman, Roy Kasimankas, Cathy Moughamer, Bob Ford, and others.)
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at