Their names stand out in my mind and they still mean a great deal to me. They were the teachers who taught the first eight grades in a rural community school in southern Missouri when I was a boy half a century ago.

Their names, their faces, their spirit and enthusiasm are as vivid in my mind today as the faces of the people I meet on the streets here in my adopted hometown. Why do I remember them so well from so many years ago? They were the overworked, underpaid ladies of another age who were dedicated to my well-being, to my development as a person, to my future. How I would love to see them all again and be able to tell them that I did learn to multiply and that I did finally figure out when the two trains that left Chicago and Cleveland would pass each other. I want to tell them what they meant to me and that, despite all of the bumps and bruises, I did turn out all right.

All of us have similar memories. I have recalled some of my memories and shared them with you to remind us all that education is largely a product of the relationship between a student and the teacher. When one talks about “education” or “school” it is not so much a place as it is a relationship, and that relationship is created primarily by the teacher. That relationship is like, as U.S. president James A. Garfield said, “... a student on one end of a log and a teacher on the other.” No matter how many computers or movie projectors we buy, the teacher is still the catalyst that makes the process work. To a child, the teacher is the school.

There are schools that are not as good as the teachers who teach there. That can be true if the school lacks resources, if the library or equipment is inadequate, or the learning environment is poor. But think of this. A school will never be better than its faculty and the learning environment never better than the teacher creating it. No amount of resources, equipment or physical plant can compensate for a weak teaching staff.

In the final analysis, the whole purpose of the state educational bureaucracy, the statewide taxation mechanism, the local investment of hundreds of millions of both public and private monies in facilities and equipment is to get the best teacher possible — with the best preparation possible — into a positive learning environment with a group of students. The teacher is the hub around which the education of our children revolves and we will never be able to repay them for what they gave to us and continue to give to our young people every day.

— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.