It’s been said that education gives you two things: it gives you roots and it gives you wings. As I look back on my school experience, this was certainly true for me.
I cannot discount the blessing of being raised in a loving, Seventh-day Adventist Christian family nor the opportunity of growing up in a community that placed a high value on education, specifically Adventist education. But when I consider where my roots are, they are deeply planted in the classrooms where I experienced teachers who cared for and nurtured their students.
Those roots were watered and nourished by teachers who also ensured that we received the “Sonshine” of Jesus as we grew. Those roots were tended alongside others, in communities where we learned the academics but were also led to experience a loving God.
Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t perfect! There were days when some teachers forgot to water us, and maybe even days when they inadvertently stepped on our leaves. But overall, my years of schooling gave me roots in the Seventh-day Adventist church, roots in professional training, and roots in relationships with so many people who continue to be an important part of my life.
Strong roots provide an environment in which children, teens, and young adults can feel secure enough to try out different experiences—they can begin to test their wings. Sometimes the idea of exploring these new experiences would not have occurred to the student, but talents and capacities are noticed and encouraged by the teacher. I think back to the third grade when my teacher asked me to direct the rest of the class in a song during a school program. While I’ve always enjoyed music, I still can’t understand what prompted that situation—except that perhaps my teacher saw hints of leadership in this young soul. While that experience isn’t included on my formal résumé, it was one that made a statement to me about being responsive to opportunities and the mentoring of others.
I think back to an academy teacher who took an interest in me personally, using casual conversations to make suggestions (some welcome and others not) about which boys might not make the best close companions. Beyond the personal conversations, that teacher began to help me see how some of my interests could lead to a career path. She then “created” courses that weren’t being offered at the academy to help me be prepared for the future.
I think back to the college professors who provided the space in which to explore a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and gave me the tools that proved invaluable during summers working at camp. I remember the graduate school professors who enhanced my early teaching experiences so that I, too, could be part of deepening roots and unfurling wings for the next generation.
What could be more fulfilling than to see the students I’ve taught over the years spreading their wings and soaring! Yes, some are working for this church, and some are working in education—but that’s not what’s most important. They’re making a difference in their families, in their communities, in their churches, and in the world.
Adventist teachers make a difference!
Berit von Pohle is director of education for the Pacific Union Conference.