By Cade Campbell
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3 that each of us is assigned our own work, our own responsibility, our own calling. Some plant, others water. Both tasks have the same objective: a full harvest. They also have something in common. In their day-to-day labors they oftentimes do not see the fruit of their strivings until the end of the season. They work daily, having hope and faith that what they are doing will one day reap a reward in the future.
When I was in fourth grade my mom, Gail, went back to William Carey College (now William Carey University) in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to begin working on a second degree in Elementary Education. She began teaching fourth grade at West Marion Elementary, where I was in the sixth grade. She later went back and earned her Master’s degree from William Carey, and in 2001 she began teaching in the Vicksburg-Warren County School District.
Tomorrow is her final day as a full-time public school teacher. She’s retiring. For twenty-five years she has taught students in first through seventh grades and on Friday afternoon she will cut the lights off her in her classroom for the last time.
How do you measure a teacher’s impact and influence?
That’s a difficult question. For children a teacher’s life is lived in the background of nervous first days, loose teeth, school crushes, hard math problems, and spring afternoons that hint at coming summer breaks. Often a teacher’s work is only marked as a memory in the minds of children. Even more often what is remembered are not the nuts and bolts of facts and figures. Few students will have a striking memory of a specific Social Studies lecture. Instead a teacher’s legacy is found in the faint recollections of a smile, or an unexpected kindness – an encouraging note or a hug as they head to the bus at the end of a long day.
Because that is how teachers are remembered, the full impact they make and the influence they have in the lives of the hundreds of children they encounter is not always easily seen. In the exhausted afternoons of discouragement they may even seriously doubt the significance of their labors. Like the farmers and field hands that Paul spoke of in his letter to the Corinthians, they work oftentimes unnoticed, tilling the fertile fields of minds and hearts, then sending them along further along with hidden seeds of meaning planted deep in the furrowed ground of their hearts, hoping against hope that blooms will one day come.
A teacher is called to a future-focused vision, for it is only in the distant horizon, perhaps a horizon that they themselves will never reach, that their legacy will be seen and celebrated. Wendell Berry said it well when he wrote in What Are People For?, “A teacher’s major contribution may pop out anonymously in the life of some ex-student’s grandchild. A teacher, finally, has nothing to go on but faith, a student nothing to offer in return but testimony.”
And so beginning tomorrow afternoon my mother will come in from her fields, wipe her brow, smile, and rest in the evidence of things not seen – a faith that believes the last twenty five years have not been unfaithful nor unfruitful. Her service has not been in vain. Her labors will follow after in the decades still unformed in the lives of students and former students whose futures are still unfinished. Who knows? Someday a silver-haired grandmother may take a small child by the hand on their very first day of school, wipe away their tears, and whisper, “Have I ever told you about one of my teachers that I had when I was your age? Her name was Mrs. Campbell.”
And it will have been…as it is even now…a job well done…and well worth it.