Back to school time again!

So many households are hives of activity this week as our young people prepare to return to school. School bags to be dusted off, booklists to be filled and uniforms to be organised. Spare thought too for the teachers who themselves are making great preparations for the imminent return to the classroom. There’s no doubt in my mind that in these pandemic times our teachers and schools could easily be numbered among the frontline heroes.


They have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that our young people have the best possible education available to them. They have adapted to new technology and made tremendous sacrifices to provide opportunities for our young people in uncertain times. The poet and author Bryan McMahon, himself a teacher, used to say that a teacher would leave the track of his teeth on several generations in the community. Having spent ten years at the chalk-face I must confess to some bias in my esteem for the work of teachers.


American minister and radio personality, Eric Butterworth once told about a college professor who had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys. The students were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future. In every case the students wrote, “He hasn’t got a chance.”


25 years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He had his students follow up on the project to see what had happened to these boys. With the exception of 20 boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen.


The professor was astounded about the results. The earlier study was so inaccurate. What had happened to change the futures of these young boys? Fortunately, all the men were in the area and he was able to ask each one, “How do you account for your success?” In each case the reply came back, “There was this teacher…”


That teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the elderly but still alert woman what magic formula she had used to pull these boys out of the slums into successful achievement. The teacher’s eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a smile. “It’s really very simple,” she said. “I loved those boys.” This teacher saw possibilities in them that no one else saw. Tell someone long enough they begin to believe. As children enter school, the adults there become a part of their web of support. “There was this teacher … ” can become a crucial part of the story adolescents tell about themselves.


It may interest you to know that Jesus was a teacher. Other words come more quickly to mind. But here’s an amazing fact. Of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times he was called Teacher. Like all good teachers, Jesus taught with authority and purpose. He taught with compassion. He challenged his followers and he put people first. How often has it been said that the best and most effective teachers teach students – not subjects? Most of all Jesus was a good teacher because his words and teaching were reflected in every action of his life. His willingness to give himself fully for those whom he loved and taught was a model for the very best among our teachers.


We could do worse than inscribe on the walls of our homes and staffrooms the words of Dorothy Law Nolte’s work, “Children Learn What They Live,” and then kept this constantly before us in our daily activities.


  • If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
  • If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
  • If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
  • If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.
  • If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.
  • If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself.
  • If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilty.


  • If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
  • If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
  • If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
  • If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.
  • If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love.
  • If a child lives with friendship, he learns joy.
  • If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
  • If a child lives with recognition, he learns to have goals.
  • If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
  • If a child lives with honesty, he learns truth.
  • If a child lives with sincerity, he learns to have faith in himself and those around him.
  • If a child lives with love, he learns that the world is a wonderful place.


Welcome back to all our teachers and pupils.


Fr. Brendan Quinlivan lives in Tulla and is Vicar Forane for the Ceantar na Lochanna Pastoral Area of East Clare

Clare Champion article 27th of August 2021