Prayer of the Teacher and a Poem of a Teacher

 courtesy of Dr. Thom Prentice, Assistant Professor, SWT (see note below)


The following two pieces of text – The Prayer of the Teacher and a “poem of a teacher” called What Have I To Give – were found by Elizabeth Archer Prentice among the personal effects of her mother, Freda Grundish Archer, a fifth grade teacher at the Shumaker (Public) School in Bellevue, Ohio following Mrs. Archer’s death in October, 1960.  Mrs. Archer, grandmother of Southwest Texas State University Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Thom Prentice, taught for nearly four decades and had earned a Master's Degree in Education from Bowling Green State University in the late 1950s.


Although Dr. Prentice believes it is a good idea to keep formal, organized prayer and religious worship out of schools, the two pieces of text -- one of which is a prayer and both of which were clearly written or at least banged out on an old, manual typewriter in 1940s or 1950s America -- nevertheless resonated with him in the year 2000 when they were rediscovered by his mother, Elizabeth Archer Prentice.


The originals were well-folded with multiple fold marks and appear to be mimeograph copies typed on a stencil using a manual typewriter since the impressions of the individual letters vary so much.  Anyone who cuts out something from the newspaper or a magazine or prints it off of the Internet in order to post it on the refrigerator or in a book or keep it in a folder of personal effects can relate to both the process of saving prized pieces of text as well as the process of rediscovering them,


They are offered here for whatever resonance and inspiration they might offer to teachers of Texas and America’s 21st Century.    




                                                THE PRAYER OF THE TEACHER



            O, Lord of Learning and of Learners, we are at best but blunderers in this godlike business of teaching.  WE have been content to be merchants of dead yesterdays--when we should have been guides into unborn tomorrows.  We have put conformity to old customs above curiosity about new ideas.


            We have been peddlers of petty accuracies, when we should have been priests and prophets of abundant living.  We have thought more about our subject than our object.  WE have schooled our children to be clever competitors in the world as it is, when we should have been helping them to become creative cooperators in the making of the world as it ought to be.


            We have counted knowledge more precious than wisdom.  WE have tried to teach our children what to think instead of how to think.  We have thought it our business to furnish the minds of our children, when we should have been laboring to free their minds.


            It has been easier to tell our children about the motionless past that we can learn once for all, than to join with them in trying to understand the living present that must be studied afresh each morning.


            From these sins of sloth may we be freed.  May we realize that it is important to know the past only that we may live wisely in the present.  Help us to be more interested in stimulating the builders of modern cathedrals than retailing to them the glories of ancient temples.


            Give us to see that a child's memory should be a tool as well as a treasure chest.  Help us to realize, in the deepest sense, that we cannot teach anybody anything; that the best we can do is to help them to learn for themselves.


            Help us to see that all facts are dead until they are related to the rest of knowledge and the rest of life.  May we know how to relate "the coal scuttle to the universe."


            Help us to see that education is, after all, but the adventure of trying to make ourselves at home in the modern world.  May we be shepherds of the spirit as well as masters of the mind.  Give us, O Lord of Learners, a sense of the divinity of our undertaking.



(-- ADAPTED from a Prayer by Glenn Frank by the Very Rev. Paul Roberts, Rector, St. John's Cathedral, Denver)


                                                      WHAT HAVE I TO GIVE?



They come and mingle in my class--38 of them--

the poor, the well, the over-fed, the dirty,

the crude, the frightened, the well-mannered, the belligerent.


Some dined on balanced menus last night, others

filled hungry stomachs with tainted left-overs;

still others drank strawberry pop for dinner--a

touch of tasty luxury which fleetingly nourishes

the soul, but not the body.


The little boy who sharpens his pencil too

often and talks too much is remembering the

wonderful popcorn balls his mother used to

make--but she now lives far away, and there

is much unhappiness for a little boy learning

to live without a mother who did gentle, personal things for him.


The little girl who talks too loudly is making

noise to cover the gnawing of an empty stomach--

and an empty soul.   She has never had anyone to

do gentle, personal things for her.


The unruly boy in the back row has never felt

the warmth and security of love; he resists all

efforts at stern discipline, but softens at a

kind word or the ruffling of his funny crew cut.


The boy with the grimy clothes and body has

never understood why stronger people pick

on weaker ones; he is the target of his father's

drunken strength--and he strikes blindly at all

of us in a rage he dares not show at home.


Thirty-eight young, squirming, individuals--

happy and unhappy--not a class to be lumped together.


They look to me for knowledge.  And what have

I to give?  Yet I was once like them.  For I've

known fear, felt shame at little things, cringed

with pangs of mediocrity, searched eyes for friendliness.


Let me, before I speak, remember that and recall,

too, the lash of a teacher's tongue when I was

in the seventh grade and couldn't understand a

problem in arithmetic.


Above all, let me soften the sharpness of my

own tongue that no young personality will carry

from my classroom the scar of humiliation.



                                                                                          (--Helen Chapman)

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