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Religious leaders recognize teaching as a ‘special calling’

“As pastors, we see teaching as a special calling,” said Brandon Walker, pastor of the New Shelby Baptist Church and director of Clergy United for the Memphis Schools.

by Tarrin McGhee
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Hundreds of teachers across the Mid-South were honored at church services on Sunday (April 29) as area religious leaders reminded parishioners that effective teaching is second only to effective parenting in having a positive influence on a child’s development.

“As pastors, we see teaching as a special calling,” said Brandon Walker, pastor of the New Shelby Baptist Church and director of Clergy United for the Memphis Schools, which organized the countywide celebration of teachers.

 Local teachers, who are members of the New Shelby Missionary Baptist Church in Collierville, gather round their pastor, the Rev. Brandon Walker following a special celebration of teachers during church services last Sunday (April 29). (Courtesy photo)

 Teachers honored on Sunday (April 29) at New Haliburton Church in Olive Branch, Miss., included (left to right) Christine Lewis, Courtnie Janiece Moore, Loretha Harris and Verdell Burton. The Rev. Steve Dodson serves as pastor. (Courtesy photo)

“For me personally, it is tremendously gratifying that so many of our religious congregations took the time and energy to honor our teachers. I know many of the teachers in my own church were profoundly moved by these efforts. One came up to me at the end of services and said that of all the recognition and awards she’s received over the years, this recognition by her church and congregation meant the most to her.”

More than 40 congregations took part in the celebration in Memphis and nearby Mississippi. The pastors preached about the biblical basis of teaching and how fundamental that role is to a successful society.  

As part of the celebration, teachers received a special gift from their congregation. (Some religious leaders, like Rabbi Greenstein of Temple Israel whose congregation does not celebrate on Sunday, mailed the gifts to their teacher-congregants.)

“We’re doing our best to mobilize faith leaders to make sure we fully understand what is happening in the public schools, especially the importance of teachers in making our schools first class,” Rev. Walker added. “We then want to help educate our congregations and add our voice to the public debate about helping to make teaching as effective as it can possibly be, especially since we know that teachers are the most important influence on our children, next to parents.”

In pursuit of that goal, Rev. Walker and three colleagues – Rabbi Micah Greenstein, the Rev. Bartholomew Orr, and Dr. Christopher Davis – released a research report on April 10 prepared by Clergy United for the Memphis Schools. The report included research that weighed all the factors that go into running a school, including curriculum, class size, funding, and administration.

What the report showed is that nothing is more important to student success than teacher effectiveness.

The group is now working to lend support to the goals of the Memphis City Schools’ Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, a reform effort initiated to pursue a focus on improving teaching in the schools, with the main focus being to identify teachers who have the potential to become great teachers, and offering added support to help them get there.

“As we’ve explored this,” said Rev. Walker, “we have come to appreciate how challenging this (teacher effectiveness) work is, and we know it can be a sensitive area for teachers. But one of the best ways to ensure that students are succeeding academically is to support and nurture teachers, and that includes evaluating how they are performing in the classroom to determine areas for improvement, and help move our schools to the next level.”

“It is so important that we make our appreciation of teachers public and not take the critical work they do for granted,” added Bishop Edward Stephens of Golden Gate Cathedral, one of the churches that participated in the Sunday Celebration of Teachers.

“Proverbs tell us to ‘train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,’ and our teachers toil every day to connect that scripture to our children’s lives to help them be successful.”


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