I’ve watched my share of movies throughout my life and often I want to do something about what I have seen. Today as I write there are two movies that I recall, not because the acting is outstanding or the effects are amazing, but because of what they did to me internally. They caused me to contemplate and to be thankful.
The two movies are “Goodbye Mr. Chips” and “Stand and Deliver“. Each of these movies is about a teacher who, through his own hard work and determination brought out a love and respect from his students. Now, I have had a lot of good teachers in my past, but I have not always had the opportunity to express my thanks and gratitude to them all.
In fact, since the dawn of the internet I have been looking to see if I could find one teacher in particular whom I wish to express my thanks and gratitude. You see, it takes a lot to be a teacher. Learning the subject, enduring the students, piles of grading, enduring the students, hours of teaching while enduring the students and, of course, wondering if you are making a difference.
Well, let me set the stage for you. While I was living in England I attended Tomlinscote Secondary School, which, for most of you living in the “land of the free and home of the brave” is the British equivalent of our High School. Well, I must confess. I wasn’t the best student in class, nor was I the most cooperative. In fact, my friends were just like me, carefree, only interested in having fun, extremely disrespectful and careless with our mouths – so careless that we had been known to cause so much difficulty in our classes that we even had a couple of teachers walk out on us in tears. I am not proud of that. In fact, I am quite ashamed, but it is critical to understanding the context and culture into which this particular teacher served me and others.
Mr. Gary W. Palmer was our Drafting teacher as well as our Design and Technology teacher. Now because of the drafting class I cannot write cursive and it is all his fault!! In fact, I write everything in capitals and even have difficulty reading cursive. Our Design and Technology class incorporated woodwork, metalwork and plastics along with our drafting and free-hand drawing skills so that using those skills we could consider a problem, conceptualize a solution, draw it out and then make it. It really was a lot of fun, but as students we had our times with Mr. Palmer. In fact, we would be quite rambunctious in his class and, although he was a very gentle and patient teacher there were times when he would have to yell, but it was so uncomfortable for him…and that is why we loved and appreciated him so much.
You see, Mr. Palmer, of all the teachers in the school, truly cared for us. It isn’t that he used clever techniques to make us feel that way. No, it was a genuine love and respect for the students under his care. You could see it in his eyes. You knew it when he talked to you personally. It was simply part of his nature.
Mr. Palmer had a Datsun he called Duncan in which I took a number of trips: Once on a Saturday, during his own personal time, he drove me and Bugsy, aka Julian Height, to the skateboard park. It was an all day affair. (Yes, I was a big skater between the ages of 12-15). He didn’t have to do it, but he wanted to; Many times I would be walking somewhere in town by my self, or with a friend, and Duncan the Datsun would pull off to the side of the road and beep his horn to see if a ride was needed. I would hop in and Mr. Palmer would talk to me in a down to earth “I care about you way.” He would also willingly stay after school to help us with our projects for school and also projects we simply wanted to undertake. That extra time, the extra touches and the genuineness he expressed were all part of the shaping process used to grow me.
Mr. Palmer…if you are reading this, I know that it was a long time ago and that you probably don’t remember much, if anything, but the little things you did and the character you demonstrated to me have had lasting effects on my life and I am far better for it. I am convinced that God used you in my life to model for me what it means to be gentle, caring and truly interested in people. I want to thank you for the part you have played and for the kindness you have shown a scruffy, difficult but watching teenage boy. I often think of you and every time I do I am thankful to God. Please know that it “is” worth it and you “are” making a difference!! You were my Mr. Chipping…
So, my friends, there is a lesson to be learned here. Don’t give up being who God created you to be. Some of you are teachers and you identify with this post. Others of you are accountants, police officers, pastors, nurses, waitresses and Starbucks employees, but be sure that the little things you do in life – acts of kindness, extra care, gentleness and concern – will have lasting effects. Think about it, it has been over 30 years ago since I saw Mr. Palmer, but I hope that he is warmed by knowledge of his influence. Sometimes we get to hear about the fruit of our labors, but most of the time we don’t. That is why we behave the way we do before God and for His glory. We do all things unto Him, but every once in a while he blesses us with an encouragement to keep pressing on.
There is a Gary W. Palmer in all of us. Fan it with God’s flame and for His glory…