Teaching gives new meaning to the Baptismal Covenant

October 10, 2010

The sun is setting on the prairie. I sit on the roadside on an abandoned tire. Next to me sits a 6-year-old Lakota boy named Tommy. I am tutoring Tommy in number comparison symbols after school, in his family's front yard. There is a glint in his eyes when he answers a question correctly. "'Teacher, I'm smart aren't I?'" "Yes, Tommy. You can do anything. You are a wonder."

I am a Teach for America teacher. I teach in rural South Dakota, in a town of about 300 people. I teach 14 courageous, strong, compassionate first graders. From the day I boarded the airplane in my home of Portland, Oregon, to coming here, my Baptismal Covenant has been transforming my actions, choices and mindset. The Spirit has been hovering over my life, awakening me to those promises in that covenant I made so many years ago.

I joined Teach for America because I believe that a quality education is the birthright of every human being. Teach for America allowed me the privilege and opportunity of teaching in some of our nation's most underprivileged communities. Teach for America is eliminating educational inequality.

If you are born into a poor community you have less of a chance of graduating from high school and you may never attend college or trade school. If this is you, this means your school does not have new materials or textbooks, your school may be crowded and stress-filled, and your school may have a reputation for poor performance and low morale. Consequently, new school teachers will be reticent about choosing your school as their first job out of college. Teach for America places dynamic, motivated college graduates in some of our nation's underprivileged schools. Teach for America trained me and found work for me here in South Dakota. But, only God would make that work holy.

On my confirmation day, I sat in that huge cathedral, ready to make promises I didn't fully understand. Now in this realm, in my new career of educational leadership, I truly see what it means to seek and serve Christ in all people. For me, it means that every little miracle that shows up at my classroom door represents a sacred mystery. For me, it means if I look closely into the eyes of the student I am teaching, I might catch a glimpse of the divine looking back at me. For me, it means that I will let my hands, feet and legs say my prayers for me and my every act of service will be a hymn of gratitude.

Respecting the dignity of every human being also was a part of the covenant that I vowed but never really knew how to put into practice. Now, for me, it means honoring my students too much to give them anything less than my best instruction and attention. For me, it means being ready to re-teach a concept again and again and again, realizing that if I give up on their learning, they are the ones who suffer. For me, it means I am always quick to forgive and slow to use guilt or shame tactics.

The call comes to you now; I do not think I am prepared to fight against injustice alone. What will you do, Baptized Christian, to eliminate educational inequality in your community and nation? What will you do to ensure that schools represent the freedom, equality and acceptance, which we have found in Christ's Kingdom? How will you live out your Baptismal Covenant in a world that needs your attention? The need is great and the time is short.