As we begin another school year, many of us are praying for teachers and students in our communities. Our schools are complex and intricate cultures, and they can certainly use all of our prayers and encouragement.
As for me, they say that once you are a teacher you are always a teacher, and each new school year finds me reflecting on my days in the classroom. This year is no different, but this year I also find myself reflecting on the unique Mister Rogers craze that is going on right now. In my mind, the two are deeply connected.
I vividly remember those moments when students walked into my classroom on the first day of school. Once the bell rang, I did what most teachers do; I introduced myself and took attendance. Taking attendance took a while, because I figured out this mundane task was really a hidden opportunity.
Just like Mister Rogers looked into the camera and greeted us every time he started his show, I learned it was important to make eye contact with every student as I called their name, and then repeat their name back to them with a salutation:
“Good morning John. I’m glad you are in my class.”
“Hello Jane. It’s nice to meet you.”
And so on…
That little practice set a strong tone. When a student realizes a teacher is making an effort to acknowledge they are an actual person, it goes a long way.
I’m sure Harry Wong thought of that first, but it was an important routine to me.
Once attendance was finished, I continued doing very ‘Mister Rogers’ kind of things.
I explained that my goal for the year was for each of them to succeed: not just to pass the course, but to enjoy being a part of it.
I read aloud from “I Can Read with My Eyes Shut” by Dr. Seuss. Every year each student was fully engaged as I turned the pages.
Did I mention that I taught 12th grade English?
Most of these kids had a college and/or career picked out. Most of them would vote in the next election. Some of them had already served time in prison and some were already parents.
And here they were digging a picture book.
Outside of my immediate family, Mister Rogers was one of the first adult male role models that I had, and I suspect that this is the case for many people my age. As we GenXers find ourselves deep in middle-age adulthood, we seem to be collectively looking backwards, seeking out the people and things that were good and kind and meaningful to us early on.
As we sift through those people and things of the past, we all seem to be finding Mister Rogers.
What we are finding in Mister Rogers is a grownup who displayed the love and compassion of Christ without mentioning the name. There is no reason why any teacher, or any adult for that matter, can’t do the same.
Mister Rogers is unique in that he showed us humility.
He showed us imagination.
He smiled at us every time he walked in the door.
He sat on the floor and played with puppets and made funny voices.
He was an adult who seemed to remember what was like to be a kid.
He was approachable.
He interacted with everyone around the neighborhood in exactly the same way, whether kids or adults.
And yet…he asked us to refer to him not as Fred, but as Mister Rogers.
He made a point of dressing down to sneakers and a sweater, but he also made a point of letting us know he walked in with dress shoes and a suit jacket.
The tie stayed on, because he was, after all, an adult.
I’ve realized that even as our neighbor Mister Rogers was displaying kindness and playing make-believe, there was a level of respect expected to be shown for this adult.
I am thankful that my generation had Mister Rogers, and I would venture to say that it is this faith-inspired level of kindness coupled with this level of respect that continues to bring comfort and inspiration to a generation still screaming out for healthy role models.
I would venture to say that each school year every teacher has an opportunity to be Mister Rogers to a generation that doesn’t seem to have a Mister Rogers.
It turns out that Mister Rogers was really teaching us a very Biblical lesson– being respectable and showing kindness.
Each school year is an opportunity to tell students ‘I am your teacher, but I am also your neighbor. I have expectations, but I am also here to help you be your best and do your best’.
It is not an easy role, but no one said teaching was easy. It’s actually pretty tough. People generally become teachers because they enjoy teaching, they enjoy leading and they enjoy helping others learn.
As we embark on another school year this is my prayer for those that teach – that they will find that balance, that they will effectively teach their subject while also being that role model young people so desperately need, and that they will do it knowing that there are people in their community praying for and supporting them daily.