When I was teaching second grade, I sometimes felt sorry for my colleagues in the upper levels. They didn’t receive the kind of love notes that appeared on my desk each morning. One of the most memorable was a thank you card from one of my more rambunctious students. His message of gratitude sticks with me: “You teached me things I never knewed.”
Okay, so maybe I didn’t quite succeed in the spelling and grammar departments, but his meaning is clear. To learn is to experience something wondrous. One of my favorite fictional characters is the wizard, Merlyn. He teaches young Wart (later to be crowned King Arthur) by turning him into different animals and, in doing so, offers first-hand knowledge of their lives. In T.H. White’s trilogy, The Once and Future King, Merlyn describes a benefit of knowledge: “The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. … Learn why the world wags and what wags it.”
I like to ask Catholic school teachers and catechists what excites them about teaching children. Inevitably someone responds by describing the joy of uncovering something new. Opening up a parable or teaching of Jesus, inviting contemplation on a perplexing problem, piquing curiosity about “what wags the world” – all are tremendous experiences that stimulate the mind and expand the spirit. While I continue to wish that we compensated our teachers more justly for their contributions to our Church and society, I know there are few professions that reap the kind of rewards they receive. One love note can make the headaches worth it. What a gift to teach what someone.