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.


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.


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.

Take my hands and let them be. . .

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice–

Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90

A Prayer-poem seeking renewal

I sit on the front porch
With unclean hands

I come home from the grocery store
With unclean hands

I open the mail
With unclean hands

Create in me a clean heart O God
And renew a right spirit within me

Wash your hands—and your heart

A childhood question—“are your hands clean?”—has become Covid-19’s rallying call, at least at our house.

“Wash your hands,” is even the way Sheila ended each of our Lenten Front Porch Facebook Fellowships, and her and my reminders to each other to be hand-mindful echoes through our days.

“Sing pre-happy birthdays to everyone on your birthday greetings list.”

Pretend you are Dolly Parton and belt out the chorus to “Jolene.”

Whatever it takes, be sure to wash your hands—in a sustained and thus sustaining fashion.

I read somewhere that singing “Be Thou My Vision” meets the 20 second cleanliness requirement too, so I have tried singing that a few times too—because my goodness, we need Spirit-vision in these days.

Whose hands?

In these days of intensified hand-washing and hand-wringing, I find myself wondering: what about our hands? My hands. Your hands.

Whose hands will chip away falsehoods that hide God’s wisdom? Whose hands will paint the colors of God’s grace on our society’s landscape of terror and injustice and despair?

The gift of hands

Yes, I have noticed my hands during this pandemic—attended to them in detail—more than I ever have before. And I have given more thought to the wonders of human hands.

Hands that carry and care and clean and comfort.

Hands that plant and play guitar and pray to a creating and healing God.

Hands that bless and hands that break bread.

Hands that sometimes ache from work and worry.

Today, I celebrate my hands that I have washed and washed and washed again. I celebrate all of our hands. And I pray that the words of old hymn come to life within them:

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take our hands and let them move—

My prayer for today?

That God will give wisdom to our hands.

I also offer up prayer of gratitude for all the hands in our communities–

Gentle hands that have put Hello Kitty band aids on skinned knees. Arthritic hands that knit or build or garden through pain. Large hands that have held tiny hands as first steps were taken. Hands that set music free from pianos or organs or guitars. Hands that calm with a touch or write with a flair or feed with a fierce desire that none will go hungry.

A hand-blessing litany

From Isaiah 55–For you shall go out in joy,
And be led back in peace.
The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song.
And all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands.

Stars. Luminous. Incandescent.
Dancing with glee across the night sky
then fading into dawn’s unbounded stillness.
Sun-bursting chrysanthemums and fiery pumpkins
painting the world with colors of harvest.
Mountains singing. Trees clapping.

In the beauty of creation—
the hands of an artist.
Hands of an architect.
Hands of a musician.
The hands of God.

Artist God, give us hands of praise to worship you on this day.

Exodus 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and they brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linens.

Weaver God, we celebrate the threads of color you stitch into our lives.
Teach our hands to spin out your grace and mercy in rainbow shades of promise.

Exodus 17. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so Aaron and Hur help up his hands, one on one side and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set.

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice. . .

We praise you that you give us a community of friends—
hands to hold us up and keep us steady.

Jeremiah 18 Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand.

Too many hands in this world break and destroy.
We cry to you, Potter God. Redeem our hands.
Shape us as vessels of courage in the face of violence.
Give us hands that create and re-create.

Proverbs 31 She holds the spinning tools in her hands
And grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her hands
to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Give us hands that reach out.
Hands that chip away falsehoods.
Hands that serve.

Deuteronomy 2 For God blesses us in the work of our hands.

The work of our hands?
My hands?
Your hands?

All of our hands, beautiful and blessed by God to do God’s work of

The hands of a farmer.
The hands of a teacher.
The hands of a child.
My hands. Your hands. The hands of God.

Psalm 24 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in the Lord’s holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts. . .

Artist God, give us clean hands and pure hearts for the living of these days.

Note: Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash