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Lifelines: Back to School on the Road to Health Lifelines: Back to School on the Road to Health
August 31, 2012

It’s Back-to-School time of year!

I was eight years old, in the third grade, and still kicking the legs of my chair when my teacher, Ms. Turner, opened wide the window on learning for me. Years later, Dr. David Duncomb shed light on the link between faith and health. I could name many more influential teachers in between. I love teachers!

At a recent dinner, I was honored to host a table of brand new Memphis City Schools teachers. I conversed with the former editor of the Penn State newspaper, the president of the senior class at Florida State, and a member of the women’s crew team at the University of Michigan. Everyone was impressive and everyone was excited about being in Memphis. It made me feel young again.

I was invited to the event because the Church Health Center has become a partner with National Teach for America. One of the criticisms of TFA is that the young teachers spend two years in inner city and rural schools and then go on to other things, such as medical school or law school. On one level, I understand the criticism; the schools are losing trained teachers that they invested in. But isn’t it a good thing that future doctors, lawyers, and business leaders now care deeply about American public education in a way they might never have without the experience of TFA?

National politics of health care and education have dominated our thinking lately. The two challenges are not as independent of each other as we might imagine. People with more education seem to have less risk of heart disease and diabetes, for instance. They are also more likely to engage in positive health behaviors. Research continues to explore whether people with more education have lower rates of dementia when they are older.

Education is a health care issue, and both are tied up in economics. No one has a magic wand to wave and solve these complex socio-economic issues. But as people of faith we can ask what our role is in the process.

The Old Testament, particularly Psalms and Proverbs, is full of descriptions of learning, and of experiencing improved well-being in the process. Jesus was a teacher to crowds and small groups. His disciples became teachers. Paul wrote about the spiritual gift of teaching. The Bible honors the truth that God created humans as learning beings who move closer to God.

Sometimes the most remarkable things happen in our own backyards. The middle school around the corner may have a team of educators determined not to let any student fail. A teacher may be quietly using her own time to tutor children struggling with reading or listen to students practice a speech. Teachers are notorious for spending their own money for classroom supplies.

Many people personally know someone who is a teacher. Find out what your friend needs and supply it. Parents have opportunities to meet their kids’ teachers. Ask what items they wish they had in their classrooms. If a neighbor child needs a ride in order to be on time for school, maybe you can provide it. Feed a child who needs breakfast to be ready for learning. Become active in a neighborhood school improvement committee. Fund a field trip, or invite a teacher over for dinner.

I especially urge you to call the principal at the school nearest your home and ask how you can support new teachers in particular. They are stepping into a crucial role.

Offering better access to technology and doctors is not the only strategy that will bring change in health in the next generation. Teaching our children to live healthy lives can bring enormous transformation. Teachers and students deserve our support in every way possible.

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Rev. G. Scott Morris, MD, is founder and CEO of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tennessee. This is the largest faith-based, not-for-profit primary health clinic in the United States, providing health services to over thirty-thousand patients who are working but uninsured. Dr. Morris is a physician and a United Methodist pastor.

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