Apples of Gold for Teachers

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.
– Proverbs 25:11-12

Not all voices are worth listening to, but then there are friends who are close enough to encourage, to console, and even to rebuke. Such friends you can count on. Their words can be as pleasing to the ear as fine silver and gold ornaments are to the eye. These words come from the Lord, and I believe they are one way that the Lord demonstrates His love to us. The Lord gives us friends who help us in life. Teachers, in particular, need such friends.

No teacher enters the profession looking for pressure, mishaps, and the unhappiness that goes with them. And yet the challenges come: needy children to love, lesson plans to complete, parents to listen to, and administrators to please. Duty piles upon duty and soon the earth gives way. O Lord, send help!

Christian teachers who understand that they belong to the body of Christ have a special reason to help one another. Their love for Christ connects them to the ones Christ loves. They know that teaching can be a lonely, even frightening profession, particularly for those who are just beginning. Young teachers need to hear apt words from veteran teachers, even when those words come as a rebuke, and veteran teachers need to remember that they were once struggling beginners.

A story from my first year as a college teacher illustrates the point of the golden apples proverb. With my doctoral dissertation to finish and several new courses to prepare, my first year was a blur. Everything I did that year had an unfinished quality about it. I wasn’t teaching well, and students weren’t learning well. I knew I had a serious problem on my hands.

At the end of the spring semester, I was meeting with a colleague who was in a position to know how things were going. He summarized my problems: rushed planning in my courses and a lack of clarity and organization in my lectures. The more he talked, the worse I felt. All those years in graduate school for this, I thought. It was painful to hear the truth spoken. But then he said these words to me: “I know you are struggling, but I want you to hear me now: I believe in you. I want you here.”

The pain of that first year gradually subsided, but his words are as present to me now as if he had said them this morning. He believed in me, and that made all the difference. Slowly I began to believe in myself as a teacher. I still have doubts, but then I remember his words to me during that turbulent first year.

Beginning teachers need mentors who will speak wise words to them on a regular basis. Administrators can assist by assigning beginning teachers to veterans for informal conversations about teaching. This will provide a context for new teachers to speak candidly about concerns, and for mentors to give wise counsel. Such schools create space for “apples of gold” to be shared.

Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance, and one of teaching’s great rewards is the daily chance it gives us to get back on the dance floor. It is the dance of the spiraling generations, in which the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn.
– Parker Palmer

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College