A Mirror of Creation — Reflection on the Work of a Catholic Teacher

All men, at some point in their lives, become teachers in some capacity or another. As a result, being a professional teacher can swiftly lose its meaning to the likes of students, as well as even parents and other administrators. However, it is upon the backs of these workers that a critical building block of any healthy society is placed. This kind of work is sometimes misunderstood and is consistently misrepresented in fiction time and time again. Many times, the teacher is presented as the schoolmaster, a disciplinarian who solely exists to punish students with meaningless, dull work and sharp words. The relationship of a student to his teacher, in a way, reflects that of a child to their parent, but carries with it key differences. Unlike the role of a parent, which extends from the moment of a child’s conception until the death of the parent, the role of a teacher in the life of a student is far briefer, but no less beautiful when executed properly.

The task of being a teacher is one which travels from the highest points of joy, which mirror those of parenthood, to the deep valleys of frustration and anxiety. To be a professional teacher is to watch generations of pupils rise and fall within your classroom. It is to attempt to guide them to rise above simple knowledge of the immediate world around them, and to bring the student to understand the greater world itself. Students, of course, do not always cooperate, limited by inexperience, pride, or any number of vices or simple disinterest. Sometimes, a teacher must correct his student’s course, and bring his words and authority to bear, but true disciplining of a wayward student cannot occur without love for the individual student.

The process of education innately involves a deep bond of love between the student and the master. The student, not yet fully formed and ready for the world, must receive a master and learn from him all that the master can teach. The master, on the other hand, must teach the student all that he knows in the hopes that the students may supersede them. The teacher is, by the very nature of his role in the lives of students, a limited individual, who cannot teach everything possible. The student must learn to become a master of himself. This is explained beautifully in Dante’s Divine Comedy, where, upon reaching the very summit of Purgatory, Virgil speaks to Dante a final time, stating that:

“My son, you’ve seen the temporary fire
and the eternal fire; you have reached
the place past which my powers cannot see.
I’ve brought you here through intellect and art;
from now on, let your pleasure be your guide;
you’re past the steep and the narrow paths.
Look at the sun that shines upon your brow;
look at the grasses, flowers and shrubs
born here, spontaneously of the earth.
Among them, you can rest or walk until
the coming of the glad and lovely eyes—
those eyes that, weeping, sent me to your side.
Await no further word or sign from me:
your will is free, erect, and whole—to act
against that will would be to err: therefore
I crown and miter you lord of yourself.”1

These lines carry with them a kind of transcendent beauty which exemplifies what every teacher must seek to accomplish with his students. They also remind us, those called to this blessed profession, to remember that we have things which our own powers of intellect cannot see, and that there will come a point where our students will outpace us. This, rather than being a point of embarrassment, should become a point of pride for every teacher, and truly, every parent, that their child should reach further into the well of Salvation than themselves.

All men are called to align their wills to that of our Divine Creator, God the Father. It is when we unite our wills to the will of God that we achieve the truest form of freedom, wherein every action taken, every word spoken, and every thought conceived of perfectly aligns with the will of the Father. The parent plays their part in this, by bringing a child to earth, and becoming their first and most influential teacher. It is through the examples of the parents that children begin their journey towards Salvation. It is the role of the teacher, both mentor and master, to guide the child in one of two ways. Either by raising to further heights the child that has already begun the straight and narrow path, or to correct the course of a student who is in danger of falling away from the Truth that moves the universe itself. The teacher is not a taskmaster, whose will is bent upon causing useless suffering and work for their own pleasure. That kind of ‘teacher’ is a mere slave-driver, who only further contributes to the fall of a great many into Error. The truest teacher reflects the love of a parent, for they, in essence, must adopt each and every student that enters into their classroom as one of their own. It should be the goal of each and every teacher, then, to one day speak those same beautiful words, “Await no further word or sign from me: […] I crown and miter you lord of yourself.”2

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1 Purgatorio XXVII, 127-142.

2 Ibid., 139, 142.