December 1, 2013
Online Journal - The Influence of the Teacher – In Partnership With God
Donald McIntrye, Superintendent of Schools, Ontario Conference, Oshawa, ON

Every young person has an idea of what he/she wants to be, even as a child. Some ideas are unrealistic while others are feasible and understandably based on the influence of their environment. This influence could come from the vocation of Mom or Dad, or an admiration for something brave, heroic, or exciting. Whatever it is, more than likely by the time the child reaches high school, his/her mind would be settled on a more realistic vocation than when he/she was four, five, or six years old.
 
So it was with me. At 5 years old I wanted to be a Public Health Inspector because that was what my father was. As I went through elementary school my aspirations changed, ranging from being a pastor, politician, doctor, automotive designer, locomotive engineer, etc.; none of them with any serious consideration, just passing fancies. In high school, my choices had narrowed down to being a medical doctor, architect, geologist, or “something” in science. During that time I was discovering my abilities in mathematics and science but I had no real conviction or passion for anything in particular.
 
In my freshman year, I had a math teacher who was the same one who taught me Geometry and Arithmetic in my senior year in high school. He had a very large ego. Teaching math was merely an exhibition of his mathematical prowess. He was hard on students and was never encouraging. One could never negotiate anything with him; he had no patience with anyone who operated below a certain level.  In fact, he was quick to instruct anyone who struggled to drop the course.
 
In spite of all this, I found him to be very interesting and actually enjoyed his classes. He was very talented in other areas as well: he conducted the College Choir, he sketched art work and was a keen astronomer – some of the things I would have loved to do some day. Somehow he exhibited a different attitude towards me. One day he shouted to me in his strong baritone voice, “McIntyre! Come to my office this afternoon. I need to see you!” I literally trembled. What was he going to tell me or “rake me over the coals” about? Did I make a huge mistake on the recent test? So many things came to mind.   
 
When I got to his office, he sat me down and said to me, “McIntyre, I have been observing you. What is your plan in life? What do you want to become?” I was bewildered.  I muttered a few things: “architect, doctor, ….., I’m not quite sure, sir. Why?  He answered, “Have you ever considered teaching? I think you would make an excellent math teacher.” I was flabbergasted. Never would anyone dream that Mr. Lawrence could ever compliment anyone, especially to encourage someone to do what he does. I left his office literally numb, confused about this man who went about with his head in the clouds yet concerned himself with my future. Nevertheless here was something I could think about.  But there was a problem. I had never considered teaching as a career ever in my life because from my perspective, it did not fit my personality. I was an extremely shy person who was mortified of speaking in public. Not even in class could I make a sensible statement without stumbling over my words and saying things the wrong way. I was having a real “Moses” moment as I pondered Mr. Lawrence’s talk with me and his suggestion.
 
As time passed, I thought about teaching as a career more and more. I saw my future somewhat taking shape mainly because one teacher pointed me in a particular direction not originally on my radar. In spite of my fears, I began to envision myself standing in front of a class. After my graduation, I went to work initially with Alcan, an aluminum company operating in Jamaica. I was still a teenager when the education secretary of the Conference approached me with the prospect of teaching math in one of the high schools in that conference. Once again I tried to discourage the idea, thinking about my fears as well as my dislike for the profession but the words and encouragement of Mr. Lawrence kept coming back to me. I took the offer in spite of my youth and not having any training. I enjoyed this experience so much that the following year I decided to return to the school to teach. I then decided to make teaching my career.
 
In my life as a teacher I have had opportunities to counsel with students who had no particular aim or direction in life beyond high school. Two such students come to mind. One had a very intelligent approach to his work and earned very good grades, but his parents were very discouraged because their son had no idea as to what to do after high school. Based on my observation of him and my knowledge of some of his activities and habits, I suggested architecture as a vocation. His parents sought out and enrolled him in a University with an architectural program. It was a natural fit for him. He now resides in Atlanta and works for a large architectural firm, heading a team of architects who are working on inner city planning. Another student wanted to be a dentist but I thought that it would be difficult for her based on her exhibited abilities. In her senior year she did not have the required grades and was not accepted by any university. She was devastated and very discouraged. Her goal was really unrealistic. I encouraged her to apply to a college and try for a program in dental hygiene. She and her mother were encouraged with the prospect and were successful in getting her in. She is now a dental hygienist and is extremely satisfied, happy, and successful with her career.
 
When God said “Let Us make man in Our image” He had an intention and a purpose for man. Each person is created for success. God has a blueprint for each of His created children. If we should look at the “blueprint” analogy, every building that is set up first began with a blueprint or a drawing. This is done by an architect. There are special people who take this drawing and from it interpret the drawing and set up a building. These are the builders. Some people will look at these drawings and see only confusion of lines and arcs and circles. A builder sees walls and ducts and electrical routes and outlets and plumbing. The architect imagines the structure and sets it on a flat paper and the builder interprets and produces a three-dimensional structure of concrete, steel and lumber.
 
God is the Architect and each child who enters our classroom has a blueprint of his/her life drawn by Him. Teachers are the builders who must interpret this blueprint and produce the “structure” intended by the Master Architect. Some might be simple structures, others may be grand and complicated masterpieces. Whatever it might be, the teacher is the one who is given the task to produce it. The attitude of the teacher then has to be one of careful note and not one of careless abandon. If the plumber does not act or the steel worker is careless, if the carpenter is not precise and the pile driver sleeps on the job, if the cement worker is not careful and the duct worker stops halfway through the building, then we have a flawed and dysfunctional structure not worthy for use.
 
What do we do then? In spite of the many distractions that we face each day as educators, we need to find the time to identify the qualities in each child that will help us successfully steer him/her in the right direction. As an educator in a Seventh-day Adventist school I firmly believe that one of my roles is to fulfill this mandate in helping each child to reach his/her potential which God has intended for him or her. Ellen G. White penned the often quoted remarks “Higher than the highest human thoughts can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness – godlikeness is a goal to be reached.” (Education, p. 18). It is a very interesting exercise when a teacher takes the time to interact with students and analyze each child’s gift, attitude, strengths, and habits and make suggestions as to where this person fits in the grand scheme of God’s Kingdom. When we commit ourselves to the role of builders and not just dispensers of information or one who churns out grades, God will endow us with the gift of insight to fulfill our mandate as builders. Christian teachers must not divorce themselves from their students. We must engage them, challenge them, smile and laugh with them, get to know them, look beyond their “attitudes.” It will sometimes feel as if we are beating the wind but remember, for every action there will be a reaction. Chances are, the reaction will lead to positive results.  
 
The word of God instructs us: “Feed the flock of God which is among you…… not by constraint but willingly; not only for money but of a ready mind” 1 Peter 5:2.
 
So here we are, teachers, educators, mentors, ministers, counselors, to some students, nurse, guardian, parent, confidante, friend. If we fit them all together, we are builders of mind and character, equipping them to go out and operate and hold their own in a cold and dark world, to continue to work with and change the society we are passing on to them. We must read and follow the blueprint the Master Architect has imprinted in each child. From JK to 12, each person working with others, doing his/her assignment faithfully, dovetailing each effort, will bring forth a product that pleases God at the end of the line. In that day when Jesus comes, may He say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant …… enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matt. 25:23. May this be the lot of every Christian teacher.