Zoey is a teacher. Soon after graduating from a respected university with her degree in education she found a teaching position at a large inner-city school. Older teachers warned her about the uselessness of trying to teach children who had no interest in learning, but Zoey was new at this game and still naïve enough to believe that she could do what they could not. She was young, energetic and eager to share what she knew with her students.
Unfortunately, Zoey soon learned that it would take more. Every day, she walked into her classroom ready to teach. She prepared her materials according to the established curriculum, but she soon discovered that many of the older children viewed school simply as a place to put in time until they could “age out” of the system. The seed she sowed fell among the thorns of boredom and inattention and little came of it. Other students were more eager to learn but lacked support outside the classroom. Poor nutrition and circumstances at home provided shallow soil for these children. The seed of learning Zoey planted there, sapped of its strength and scorched by parental indifference, soon withered.
But Zoey didn’t give up. She continued to plead on behalf of her students to school administration, hoping that someone would listen. And slowly, because of her persistence, someone did. Zoey used her own money to purchase supplies, but she knew that wouldn’t be enough. She knew that students who came to school hungry needed breakfast in addition to lunch and a healthy snack if the soil of their mind was to grow rich. Zoey invited school administrators to come in to observe the difference when students could concentrate without their stomachs growling. She wrote grant requests for computers and found volunteers to paint bright murals on classroom walls. Zoey had been given much and now she used what had been planted in her to seek and find ears to hear — and to listen — to her requests. And today, because of her faith in her students, good fruit grows where others once saw only thorns.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.