Who Knew “Shoe Polish” Was So Beautiful? Savoring Teachers

What can we do to say “thank you” to teachers?

This week is National PTA’s Teacher Appreciation Week.

Today I am revisiting a blog I wrote several years ago as an ode of gratitude to teachers. My respect for those who teach our children has expanded and deepened in recent weeks as I see the work teachers are doing to support their students through the COVID-19 crisis.


“Shoe polish,” he said. “Listen to the words. Consonants and vowels feel and sound a certain way when you say them. ‘Shoe polish.’ Don’t you just love that sound?”

Mr. Rogers was my high school English teacher. He loved words and the artistic work of putting words together to make sentences. Mr. Rogers was also enamored of novelists who wove sentences together into tales in which memorable protagonists grappled with life’s deepest questions.

“Every one of you can write beautiful words, sentences, and stories,” Mr. Rogers said. “You can be writers and artists. You can change the world.”

I was sixteen years old. I wanted to believe him.

TEACHING HEROES SHAPING OUR CHILDREN

Political decisions in many cities and states have created complex challenges for public school teachers. In North Carolina, where I live, legislative actions over a number of years have decreased resources for public schools and teachers, and some schools face significant teacher shortages. Teachers are weary and discouraged. 

And yet, each year parents let their kindergarteners go into a world of public education, where their hearts and minds will be forever shaped by those who teach them about grammar and history, math and science, literature and art. 

Each day of the school year, teachers like Mr. Rogers stand in that boundary place between home and public life, and urge our communities’ children to read, write, create, and explore. They teach children how to be good citizens. They encourage them to care about what happens in our world. They have the power to open our children’s minds to the world and to open up worlds for our children. 

The hard, often thankless, work teachers do matters. They deserve our support. They deserve better legislative decision-making. They deserve gratitude.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO SAY “THANK YOU” TO TEACHERS

People of faith have important roles to play in improving the capacity of education to shape healthy and just communities. Joining other religious and public leaders in demanding legislative change is one vital way. 

Another way people of faith can impact what happens in schools is by embodying one of the faith’s most powerful gifts: gratitude. 

This year teachers are facing even more challenges than we or they could have imagined to teach our children. I am so thankful for teachers who have scrambled to learn technological innovations for teaching during this pandemic. Many teachers I know have been creative in how they have stay connected to their students, and have gone above and beyond to support those whose home situations are uncertain. Teachers are amazing. 

God’s expansive creativity inspired the buzz of the bumblebee and painted spring pansies lavender and orange. God’s expansive creativity breathed life and love into human souls. God’s expansive creativity birthed radical Gospel justice and grace. When we offer expansive generosity to others, we live out our “thank you” to God. We embody God’s own creative grace.

Author: Jill Crainshaw

I am a professor at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and an ordained PCUSA minister.

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