As the Cherokee County School System, among the top school systems in Georgia, begins its new school year perhaps it’s time to commend those teachers who inspire their students to higher goals.

The thought for this column was inspired by a friend of mine, Jeffrey R. Holland, who was speaking to a large worldwide audience of early morning seminary teachers via the internet.

Like other local churches, my church has established a program to teach its youth the Gospel of Jesus Christ daily. This early morning seminary program is in addition to what the youth are taught in their Sunday School classes. It is a four-year course for students in the 9th through 12th grade. And it coincides with the local school year and begins at 6 a.m. each school day for one hour. At the end of the hour the students leave their seminary class and head for their respective school. Their teachers are well versed scripturian volunteers called to teach from their local congregations. Most of my children are graduates of this program. It has been a great blessing to my family as each child rose each morning, often with urging from their parents, as they have gained a greater understanding of the scriptures to help guide them through the many ups and downs of their lives.

The two phrases that caught my attention as I read Holland’s talk were these. No. 1: “A student is not a ‘container to be filled – a student is a fire to be ignited.” And No. 2: “As teachers we are to be spiritual arsonists. Our lessons are to be incendiary devices.” Wow, what electrifying words for all teachers, not just teachers of seminary classes.

With the Cherokee County School System among the top schools in Georgia year after year I can’t help believing that most if not all teachers in this local school system must have that ability to set their students’ spirits afire. As one reads in this paper every spring of the achievements of our local students one must believe that the local teachers are among the best of the best and have that ability to set their students afire. What a talent these teachers are.

Several years ago while I was still mobile, Joan and I were invited to be a part of a county-wide program that requires a student to develop a project that requires them to reach out into the local community to an expert in a given field and tap into that individual’s experience, and then at the end of the year defend their project before several local citizens. As we participated in this program, we watched students set afire by their project teacher and citizen participant. Their teachers’ lessons were incendiary as they helped their students prepare for the real-life trials that follow high school.

One of those students who was “set on fire” by her local teachers at Etowah High School was one of my many granddaughters, Amanda Karski. Amanda graduated with honors and went off to college and became a registered nurse and is now a nurse at a local hospital. And because of health issues for both Joan and me, she and her husband and 4-year old son Caleb are now living with us to help us deal with the daily issues we face because of our health challenges. In May, I fell and cracked five vertebrae. One vertebra required surgery to restore it. In June, I fell again and broke another vertebra that required additional surgery. I keep wondering where the gold is in these so-called golden years.

But because of one of more of Amanda’s teachers who inspired her, and “set her on fire” at Etowah, Joan and I now have a granddaughter prepared to give care to her aging grandparents.

My father was one of those teachers who set his students afire. He taught school for 50 years and set many students on fire in an era when it was not fashionable to go onto college. I kept several letters that were written to dad by former students thanking him profusely for changing their lives forever. Dad was an educational arsonist, as are those local Etowah teachers who set my granddaughter on fire in an inspired Cherokee County School System. And I remember well that educational arsonist who set me on fire in high school nearly 80 years ago. His name was Blaque Knirk. Students will always remember those “educational arsonists” who set them afire.

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Donald Conkey is a retired agricultural economist who lives in Woodstock.

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