"Blessed is he who comes in the_name of the Lord." St. Matthew, 21:9
The great Italian artist, Michaelangelo, was one day walking with some friends through a back street of Florence, Italy. He noticed a block of marble lying in a yard, half buried with dirt and rubbish. He stopped, and regardless of his holiday attire, fell to clearing away the filth and dirt, and trying to lift it from the slime and mire. When his companions asked him what he wanted with that worthless chunk of rock, he gave his famous answer: "Oh, there's an angel in that stone, and I must let it out."
He had the block of marble carried to his studio, where, toiling with chisel and mallet, "he left the angel out." What to others was a shapeless, useless mass of stone, was to the master's eye a buried glory and a challenging possibility. That stone might have become part of a wall or of a street or road. But the artist changed it into a work of genius, a work of value for ages to come.
That is the principal task of the teacher - to chisel and sculpture the marble of character into something worthwhile, something precious. In general the duties of teachers are the duties of parents, because the instructor takes the place of the parent, at least for a time and for certain purposes.
1. A teacher must give information. There are certain things we need to know to get along in life. We need to know how to speak properly, how to express our ideas. We must know how to count and write. Special training is needed for special work in the world. All this we get in the classroom. A teacher who is not up on his subject, who does not try to learn and practice the best methods of instruction, is failing in his duty.
2. He also has the duty of correcting his students, not only in reading, writing and arithmetic, but in matters of character, courtesy, and personality. Here justice is the outstanding necessity. Any kind of partiality is soon sensed and resented. There should be neither fear nor favor, always with emphasis on the fact that it is good for the individual.
Prudence is a "must" with teachers. The right time and the right word and the right method are essential. First, counsel and advise. Only when that fails should one threaten and punish. A show of temper and passion or a punishment all out of proportion to the offense is unwise.
3. I know that religious teachers pray for their pupils, but I wonder whether lay teachers do. There are certain situations in education which can be solved only with the help of God. Both teacher and pupil need God's grace. Do you ask for that assistance?
4. Most necessary in the teacher is good example. Regular attendance at church, a truly Christian character displayed at all times, a genuine interest in every student - these go to make up the good teacher.
5. A real instructor knows each student and teaches accordingly. He displays a sense of humor, saving grace in many a school situation. Sincerity and humility are essential. Think of it - to you is intrusted not only the molding of a mind, but the development, as it were, of a soul. Often the material is stubborn and unyielding like the block of marble Michaelangelo worked on. But the true teacher keeps at his task of making a true man out of the material before him.
6. An interest in the outside activities of the pupils helps a great deal. Sports, social affairs and family life are of top interest to youth. Young people are drawn to the teacher who tries to understand their problems.
7. Above all a teacher has the duty of giving some knowledge of God to his students. Thank the Lord, we have woven the fourth "R" of religion into the three "R's" in our some of our Catholic schools. For that we thank our courageous bishops and dedicated religious and committed laity. Many have given up the so-called pleasures of the world to devote themselves to training our youth. And what a splendid job they do.
Again let us lay low the false, ungrounded statement that the Catholic school is in any way inferior. Read the reports of essay and spelling contests and school competition of every kind. Our schools, our pupils walk away with much more than their proportionate share of the prizes.
A word about some of our godless teachers, the kind some children meet in high school and college, so-called educated men and women, professors, who take digs at religion in general and at the Catholic Church in particular. No matter what the subject they are trying to teach, they manage to make fun of sacred things and especially Catholic things. Unfortunately, this type seems to be is in the majority today, and some of our Catholic youth are shocked and even weakened in their faith by such half-baked professors. Such scoffers do not know the first mark of an intelligent man - a respect for the religious beliefs of others.
Here's a suggestion: Ask them where they found their information. Insist that they show you the book and the page. If they can't give you any proof for their wild and stupid accusations, courteously insist that they take it back.
In general, our teachers are a hard-working, unappreciated group. They come in the name of the Lord, as it were, trying to lead us to the Lord. May the good God give us many true, self-sacrificing, inspiring teachers.
Adapted from Talks on the Commandments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1948)