A Celebration of Education
It struck me as I walked through the exhibit hall of the North American Division (NAD) Teacher Convention. I’ve attended a number of schools, taught at others and visited many more. But it wasn’t until I was attempting to navigate through Nashville’s gigantic Gaylord Opryland Hotel that I put it together. There I was, unable to traverse a single aisle in the exhibit hall without bumping into an old friend, a colleague, a former teacher or student. In the midst of that jostling crowd, I realized that education is what binds us together. For so many in the Adventist church, education is our common root. It’s what makes the Adventist world, even with its millions of members, so small.
This convention, in addition to being four days of professional development, was a celebration of schools and teachers, of the art and science of passing on knowledge and faith to another generation.
In the crowded hallways outside the general sessions and workshops of this convention of more than 6,500 Adventist educators, you would find teachers clumped together, laughing, reminiscing, sharing or arguing passionately over ideas. Many tended to be as tardy as some of their students to the workshops, crowding in at the last minute even if they had to sit on the floor.
Many of the 350 workshops offered professional growth in areas of curriculum, student development or school operations. But many more were focused on enhancing the spiritual development of students in the classroom. Our teachers were preparing not only to educate, but to evangelize as they lead their students to Jesus.
The general sessions were also strained to capacity as teachers lined the walls at the back of a room so large it needed four big projection screens. From opening night with Adventist historian George Knight and Christian recording artist/comedian Mark Lowry to Henry Wright’s devotionals and Ron Clark’s (Disney’s 2000 Teacher of the Year from Atlanta) motivating message, the general sessions served to inspire our teachers to take up their sacred task once more. In a final commitment service led by NAD president Don Schneider, our teachers dedicated themselves again to reaching our children with knowledge and truth.
A number of educators were honored during the convention. The General Conference Office of Education presented Awards of Excellence to: Dorothea Amey, retired, from the Pacific Union; Conrad Gill, director of education, Southern Union; Gary Randolph, director of education, Lake Union; and Ron Russell, director of education, Mid-America Union.
The NAD Office of Education extended special recognition for service to Erma Lee, NAD associate director of education, and Marie Blevins, NAD Office of Education secretary, as well as to David Vixie, Adventist educator from the Northern California Conference, as the recipient of Disney’s 2006 Teacher of the Year award.
Each teacher received two books as gifts from the NAD Office of Education: Avenues to the Heart, a collection of stories about life-changing teachers, edited by NAD associate director of education Larry Blackmer, and What We Believe, my new book explaining the 28 fundamental beliefs for kids. I had the privilege of signing thousands of my books for teachers at the Adventist Book Center exhibit, and I was overwhelmed by their dedication to helping students understand what their church teaches and how much God loves them.
A convention such as this one is not inexpensive or simple. The NAD Office of Education, led by vice president for education Gerald Kovalski, invested countless hours in planning, organizing and implementing this massive effort. What makes all that effort worthwhile?
• A convention promotes professional growth among our teachers. Each workshop offered insight into being a better teacher, a better dean, a better administrator.
• A convention establishes a goal of excellence. Each teacher that attended saw that they were part of an interdependent system, a link in a chain. Excellence in elementary school leads to excellence in academy, which leads to success in college and in life.
• A convention inspires and encourages. Many of our teachers work alone or with only one or two colleagues all year. As Berit von Pohle, Northern California Conference superintendent, said, “These events help our teachers to see they are part of a bigger experience and that many people are committed to doing the same thing that they do. It re-energizes them to go back and teach.”
• A convention is an opportunity for the church to show appreciation to our teachers. Speaking on behalf of us all, church leaders can express our gratitude for their work and dedication.
• A convention is an opportunity for networking with other teachers, for sharing ideas and programs. Often the most valuable things learned are shared over a meal, in a hallway, or on a walk around the grounds.
This convention filled me with hope. It’s true that tuition costs are rising. Many parents are forced to dig deeper to keep their kids in school. Many schools must get by on a shoestring in order to keep operating. But the commitment to excellence among our teachers is strong. And the commitment to the spiritual growth of their students is even stronger.
The education system of our church—our common root—is healthy. Blessed be this tie that binds us together.