A teacher’s voice is never stilled.

With summer winding down and fall already upon us, my thoughts turn to all the young people going back to school.

Some with great enthusiasm but unfortunately some with dread, and there is something I read years ago which always seems to come to mind: “A teacher’s voice is never stilled.” It means that there is always something taught which will remain with the student and they will pass it on to their children or to others and it can go on, and on, like an echo through the ages.

This gives teachers a tremendous amount of lasting power and I would venture very few of them realize it. They should, and they should understand how influential their potent, positive message can be and the flip side, how degrading and demoralizing their negative message can be.

Everyone, not just the classroom teacher, under certain circumstances and conditions is a teacher. Mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, extended family, friends, acquaintances, authors and even a passerby can all, by just a remark or action, do something to stimulate a learning experience which can last a lifetime.

This brings to mind a situation of my youngest son, when he was in his teens and working after school for Danny’s Mobile Station. One Sunday he didn’t attend Mass, all these years later I don’t remember why, and he asked me what the gospel and the homily were about. I was so surprised and happy, perhaps he’d had a religious awakening, and I asked him why he wanted to know. He answered: “Irv, the mechanic, always asks me when I get to the station”. I replied: “Why would Irv ask you? Isn’t Irv Jewish?” It turned out Irv is Jewish but his wife and children are Catholic and they all go to Mass together every Sunday. So on Monday, after school, Patrick and his brother Shaun, who also worked there, were quizzed on the gospel and homily by Irv. Irv, a very intelligent man and excellent mechanic, was highly respected by all the young workers and one, not even Catholic, would go to Mass with my boys so he could join in the quiz. The b oys are now in their thirties and through the years I have gotten to know, respect and love Irv and he is without a doubt the worlds best mechanic as well as a very good teacher of theology.

Thinking of Irv’s lessons on the Gospel makes me think about something else I read which has always stayed with me: “The essence of education is truth and all truth resides in God”. So if you are teaching any truth, even remotely connected to God, your lesson is of the greatest value. Another thing that goes along with “truth and teaching that lasts through the ages” is the story of Aristotle and St.Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher who lived three hundred years before Christ, taught that knowledge of the world could be deduced by observation and reason. Fifteen hundred years later Thomas Aquinas was teaching at the University of Paris where a great controversy was taking place over the premise that Aristotle’s teachings were incompatible with Christianity.

St. Thomas saw there was truth in Aristotle’s works so he developed them to a further conclusion, integrating the ideas of Aristotle with revelation, and this was compatible with the Dogma of the Catholic Church. Faith was added to reason by St. Thomas Aquinas and today he is regarded as the worlds greatest thinker with his philosophy being taught in all the most prestigious universities. John Paul II was a teacher of Thomism (Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy) before becoming Pope, and his writings combine solid Thomistic teachings with contemporary perspectives.

When I was first thinking about this commentary, I discussed it with Lois Donahue, as I usually do, and told her I wished there were a poem that would summarize the ideas and conclude the article. Lois came up with the perfect verse and here it is:

What teachers teach just never dies
But lives across the years.
What future parents learn from them
Will reach ‘their’ children’s ears.

And so as generations pass
The world will always find
What teachers taught so long before
Preserved and left behind.