Teachers are traditionally progressive, forward-thinking lefty socialists. They work tirelessly to challenge young people. They spur them to do their best, be the best sort of people they can. They shape adults who will think independently and not just swallow the ideas of whoever shouts loudest. They believe in the power of human reasoning. They believe knowledge can improve people. They believe the world can be a better place. They have to, or they would all quit in a heartbeat.
This is a truly bizarre time to be joining the teaching profession, when most are leaving it. During my first teaching placement I have certainly questioned why on earth I am doing this. Long hours, mountains of marking, sleepless nights agonising over lesson plans. But what has kept me going so far is hope. Holding unswervingly to my hope.
The majority of teachers (perhaps unwittingly) hold unswervingly to the hopes of Erasmus. Sometimes called ‘The Prince of Humanists’, Erasmus (1466-1536) had a sharp mind and challenged the whole of Europe to think, to reason. His editions of the New Testament in Latin and Greek inspired other great Reformers to translate the Bible into their own languages. He disagreed with Martin Luther’s idea that ‘faith alone’ was enough to save humans and stuck with the Catholic Church. Erasmus’ 22 principles promote a virtuous life by working hard, trying hard, and being a good human being.
500 years after Erasmus, many clever people (teachers among them) claim to have no faith. They don’t see themselves as religious. Indeed, for many in Britain today, trusting in God is a rather quaint and old-fashioned idea, a relic of an ignorant past. Religion lacks intellectual curiosity. Yet for teachers, their hope – that humans might improve, learn from the mistakes of the past, make good decisions, look after the world and respect each other – smacks of faith to me. In fact, it reeks of Erasmus.
As I write, the country is troubled by terrorism, flooding, civil violence and football referees being verbally abused. Humans run hot with temper, anger, frustration and powerlessness. Just thinking about these problems won’t help solve them. Our news pages show our human limitations, our helplessness and inability even to build decent flood defences.
Teachers need faith; we all need faith. Otherwise we would just give up. The question is, are you going to put your faith in humans, who are extremely limited by time, distance, age, technology, and brain power; or would you put your faith in a God who knows you and can be known by you? Whose power is unlike anything else known on the planet? God whose compassion is unfailing and whose patience outlasts anything ever seen in the classroom?
The hope I profess is an unswerving hope in this God. It’s God who can change hearts, God who provokes our intellectual curiosity, and the knowledge of God which improves people. As we hold on to this hope, we see more and more that the God who makes promises keeps promises. In the run up to Christmas, we hear how God kept his old promises to send a Saviour. We know he is faithful, we know he keeps his promises. Hold unswervingly to your hope; let nothing move you.