How would you like to teach school in New Orleans?

How would you like to teach school in New Orleans? The government is endeavoring to attract new teachers to what, even before Hurricane Katrina, was one of the toughest and most challenging school districts in the nation. But now in the post-traumatic stress of that crippled city, recruiters are offering to every teacher willing to move to the Crescent City a two-year signing bonus of $17,000. Any takers?

Fact of the matter is that whether you teach in New Orleans or Benton Harbor or Berrien Springs you’ve signed on to a very demanding profession. U.S. Department of Labor statistics report that there are now 3.8 million preschool through high school teachers (public and private) in the United States, with annual earnings ranging (in the latest statistics available) from $26,730 to $71,370. Any takers now?

But sit down with a school teacher, private or public, and inquire the motivation that keeps the teacher returning to that noisy classroom day after day, and I predict you’ll not hear a word about “the compensation package.” And probably not too much about the working environment or physical plant either (which isn’t to suggest that such factors aren’t important or vital to these professionals). But to a man and woman among the teachers I’m privileged to know (and work with) the gut motivation and heart response keep coming down to a personal passion for kids, a love of learning and teaching and the desire to change this world one life at a time.

And the rewards? Years ago the screen play “Mr. Holland’s Opus” powerfully portrayed the payoff of a high school music teacher, whose dream to compose a world-class opus was perennially preempted by his devotion to the kids who tromped through his band room year after year. Their surprise rendition of his unfinished opus at his retirement program captured the compelling truth about teachers—their greatest life compositions are played out in the lives of their students long after school days are over.

I carry these two quotations in my Bible: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl 12:1); and, “What line can we dwell upon that will make the deepest impression upon the human mind? There are our schools” (FE 529). In that juxtaposition is the reason why I thank God for the hundreds of dedicated Christian teaching professionals in this parish. Let the school bells clang—our kids are in the right hands!

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