4 : 6 June 2005

Mike Leeming

Heart of a Teacher


The Heart of a Teacher is a collection of 51 true stories written either by teachers themselves or by people whose lives have been deeply touched and changed by teachers. Compiled by Wayne Holmes and published by Bethany House, the stories (from two to seven pages in length) are brief but potent examples of the positive influence and tremendous impact teachers can have on the impressionable lives of their students.

The stories often give the credit to God as the greatest Teacher of all for the many lessons which He has allowed His servants to teach others both in and out of the classroom. People who are already recognized as fine writers-Mark Rutland, Gordon Mac Donald, Barbara Johnson, Corrie ten Boom, Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard, and numerous others-authored many of these stories.


Here is an excerpt from "I Never Knew Her First Name" by Cecil Murphy:

I never knew Mrs. Leamer's first name. She became our substitute teacher my first day in third grade. She had light freckles, sandy-colored hear, and wore thick glasses. When she spoke, even at age nine, I felt she directed her attention totally to me.

I can't remember anything Mrs. Leamer taught me; but I can never forget the lessons I learned. I was a shy, skinny boy whose clothes never fit properly. What few 'new' clothes I had, Mon bought at a second-hand store or they were hand-me-downs from neighbors. Mrs. Leamer didn't pay attention to my clothes; she did pay a lot of attention to me…
Without ever saying such words, Mrs. Leamer made me feel accepted and valued. She didn't see only that shy, skinny kid, but instead focused on my potential-not just who I was, but who I could be. Home was a house of beatings and drunkenness, and place of yellings and unhappiness. May father drank often and sometimes became violent. That fall a serious illness kept him out of work for months. Yet when I walked into Mrs. Leamer's classroom, I could push that part of my life behind me. For those hours, I escaped from loneliness, poverty, and isolation. I was safe and someone cared about me. Beginning with those days in third grade and continuing all the way through high school, once I walked inside the school building I tuned out my miserable home life ...
In a way, that's how Jesus Christ operates, isn't it? Jesus has always known my potential. Through the years, he sent people into my life-individuals like Mrs. Leamer-to nurture and encourage me. Those special individuals enabled me to inch toward feeling accepted and worthwhile.
I never knew her first name, but I know God does. I felt as if God had prepared me for wholeness and acceptance. One of those who helped was a woman whose first name I never learned" (pages 25, 26, 27).


Writer Gordon MacDonald tells of a track coach he had who used athletic training as an opportunity to impart spiritual lessons. In "What Following Looks Like," he says,

I met Marvin Goldberg when I left my Colorado home to attend the Stony Brook School on Long Island, New York. Soon after I arrived, he went to work on my hidden character…
There was something about Marvin Goldberg that made you want to be near him. He knew instantly that he would bring the best out of you, that he would care for you in ways that far exceeded the world of the quarter-mile oval. Something deep within said, 'Stick with this man, and you're going to grow.' Even as a fifteen-year-old I was perceptive enough to get that message ...
Coach Goldberg was not only committed to developing runners. He made no secret of the fact that he had a passion for building men (Stony Brook was at that time a boys' school). Every bit of an athletic experience, as far as the coach was concerned, was tied tightly to some aspect of character development. He believed in the hidden life and its deliberate cultivation. And he made it happen in the context of our athletic world ...
The coach was laying the tracks for the day when it would become clear to me as a biblical person that all of life is played for an audience of One and never as a competition against my peers…Looking back, I believe he sensed the greatest challenge I would have in my architecture of character. And he was using the story of a race to build what he hoped would be a better man (pages 171, 172, 173, 174, 176).


One selection by Dallas Willard is a little more instructive than some of the others; it is entitled, "The Teaching Style of Jesus." In it, he says,

[T]he aim of the popular teacher in Jesus' time was not to impart information, but to make a significant change in the lives of the hearers. Of course that may require an information transfer, but it is a peculiarly modern notion that the aim of teaching is to bring people to know things that may have no effect at all on their lives… No value was placed on mere 'information' as we know it today ...
The teacher in Jesus' time-and especially the religious teacher-taught in such a way that he would impact the life of the hearer, leaving a lasting impression without benefit of notes, recorders, or even memorization. Whatever did not make a difference in that way just made no difference. Period. And, of course, this is true to the laws of the mind and self ...
The secret of the great teacher is to speak words, to foster experiences, that impact the active flow of the hearer's life. That is what Jesus did by the way he taught. He tied his teachings to concrete events that make up the hearers' lives. He aimed his sayings at their hearts and habits as these were revealed in their daily lives ...
By showing to others the presence of the kingdom in the concrete details of our shared experience, we impact the lives and hearts of our hearers, not just their heads. And they won't have to write it down to hold onto it" (pages 87, 88, 89).


In summary, this is a book that could easily be used as a devotional, since each chapter is so brief, but it so often touches the reader's heart that having a box of Kleenex close by is a necessity. I found myself filling up with tears many times.


Mike Leeming
Bethany College of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438