magister cor

In Robert Rodat’s screenplay for the movie Saving Private Ryan, there is a chaotic scene when Captain John Miller, portrayed by Tom Hanks, appears to be losing control of his troops. 

Captain Miller has been given the assignment to find and remove from harms way Private James Ryan. Ryan’s three brothers have been killed in the war. Military leaders do not want the Ryan family to lose their last son.

This undertaking to find Private Ryan will be a dangerous challenge. Just as soon as they start the search, one of Miller’s soldiers is killed by a German sniper. They keep moving, and the next task is a machine gun outpost. In this attack, Miller loses another soldier.

Those two losses, plus misgivings about the mission to save Ryan create a tension charged environment. One private disobeys a Miller order and threatens to desert. The private is confronted by a pistol yielding sergeant who threatens to shoot the potential deserter. Arguments are breaking out, emotions are high.

And then Captain Miller blurts out— “What’s the pool up to on me?” A pool of money has been wagered by his troops as they try to guess Captain Miller’s profession before the war. The pool is up to $300.00, and then he tells his men—“I’m a school teacher.” 

That question and the revealing of his profession, quell the emotional chaos. All ears and eyes are now trained on Captain Miller as his quiet, non-threatening voice, and rational diplomacy bring the men back into reality. Things settle down. Even with some reluctance, his men begin to understand the orders that Captain Miller has been given.

This is Teacher Appreciation week. 

Somewhere in America today, a teacher, like Captain Miller,  used his/her skills to settle down high strung emotions in a school. Somehow, in that unsettled environment, the teacher kept focused and composed. Slowly, the wisdom of the teacher reeled the students back in, order was restored.

Teaching is tough work. Yes, it can be rewarding work, but it is one of the toughest jobs on earth.

One of my favorite verses from the Bible can be found in the book of James Chapter 3 verse 1:  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Many years ago, I shared that verse with the Lakeside Elementary School faculty. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, and I called an impromptu faculty meeting out on the playground. The pressures of SOL testing were wearing us down.  That verse has never left me.

Seems the world is even more strict today in how it judges our teachers—it is tough work.

On Tuesday afternoon, May 7, I was at Glen Allen High School for an awards program. The program was staged by our school system to recognize outstanding teachers.  Three categories focused on first year teachers, exceptional education teachers, and our teacher of the year. 

This was a humbling experience  as we learned about the finalists in each category. Students, peers, administrators, and parents painted quite a picture of the outstanding instructional and interpersonal skills each teacher possessed.

In today’s world, teachers must have quite a tool box to meet the needs of students. One size does not fit all when it comes to students. So many factors impact the shaping of a student’s life. 

Often, those factors are well beyond the control of a classroom teacher. And, yet somehow, a teacher searches for an opening in the student’s armor. Finding that opening can be the key pivot for building a relationship with the student, and in case anyone is listening—successful teachers build relationships.

I think I was probably an enigma to my teachers. I had potential, but I never ever truly applied myself. I made honor roll once in the sixth grade. I often wonder how my parents put up with my pitiful academics.

Despite my shortcomings, I am thankful for my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hughes, who taught me how to read at Elon Elementary School. At Turrentine Junior High School, Mrs. Wall taught me how to type. And at Walter Williams High School, my senior English teacher, Mrs. Barnwell, connected me to Catcher In The Rye and Black Like Me. To all of those other teachers who I let down, I apologize.

Sadly, I don’t think teaching will become any easier. In fact, finding competent teachers in the future will continue to be a challenge. 

This world we live in has lost its mind. Every year, we lose many good teachers for a variety of reasons, but our mindless world impacts those decisions to bail on a noble calling. 

When we live in a society where a college football coach can sign a contract that is worth 9 millions dollars a year for a ten year period, something is wrong.

Contrast that to the fact that for some students, their six hours at school each day are the best six hours of their 24 hour day, something is wrong.

I will stop the whining.

At some point today, I encourage you to check your memory banks for a teacher in your life. Find that moment, and ask yourself what made that teacher unique in your mind?

My hunch is your answer will be connected to that teacher’s heart. The heart of a teacher isn’t made like other hearts. 

 No, a teacher’s heart is always open, it never closes, it never stops learning, and even when defeated that heart never gives up.

Even though he was a character in a screenplay, Captain John Miller had “magister cor”—a teacher’s heart.



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