“A Prayer for the First (and Every) Day of School,” column for Aug. 18, 2015

When my phone rang, I lit up like Christmas.

“Hey, school boy!” I said, “How was your first day of school?”

“You don’t have to call me ‘school boy’ any more, Nana,” Randy said. “I already went.”

“So you’re done forever?”

“No,” he said, “just for today!”

Did I mention he is brilliant? He’s barely 5 years old, and already he’s learned to take life one day at a time. Some of us take years to learn that lesson. Lots of us never learn it at all.

I’d been waiting all morning to hear how it went, praying it would go well. He had loved preschool but was a bit worried that kindergarten might prove to be all work and no play.

“Did you get to play?” I said.

“Yes! It was fun! Bye, Nana, I have to go! Love you!”

And with that, he was gone, rocketing off on a grand new adventure.

It happens that fast with children. One day they’re babies. Then they’re toddlers. Then you turn around to load a dishwasher, and the next thing you know they’ve gone off to school, spending most of their waking hours entrusted to someone who cannot possibly love them as much as you do.

You hope with all your heart that their teachers will be worthy of your child and your trust. Randy loves his new teacher. He told me she’s really nice. (I checked her out and I agree.) He knows a lot about teachers. He was born into a family of them.

His dad teaches third grade just a few doors from Randy’s classroom. His Auntie Nan is a reading specialist in a school nearby. His late granddad, for whom he is named, taught high school for 30 years.

Teachers are a special breed. Theirs is not a job. It’s a calling. They are called not just to teach, but to care for and discipline and motivate and inspire and set an example for how to live. It’s not written in their contracts or reflected in their salaries, but it’s all part of the deal. To do their best, to follow their calling, to survive a classroom full of children who act like chihuahuas at a Fourth of July fireworks display, they need all the help they can get.

That’s where nanas come in. We pray. Prayer is our calling. Not just nanas, of course. Moms and dads and grandpas and aunts and uncles, anyone who loves a child can pray for that child and the child’s teacher.

We’re all in the child-rearing boat together. Children are our future. It’s in our collective best interests to see they do well.

Some people do a lot more than pray. They volunteer to help in the classroom, on the playground or in the cafeteria. They take snacks, monitor crosswalks, make costumes or listen to children read. They provide a safe haven after school (where children do homework and eat stuff they aren’t supposed to eat) until the parents get home from work.

Some, God bless them, raise their grandchildren full time. They aren’t grandparents, really. They’re called saints.

We all want the best for our children and grandchildren. We want them to be safe and happy. To learn and thrive. We’d prefer they not embarrass or cause us grief, but that is up to them. Mostly we want them and their teachers and classmates to have the best school year possible.

So we pray. Last week, on the first day of school, I pictured Randy, with his curls and his backpack and his bright shining eyes, going up the same walk I watched his dad take some 30 years ago. I prayed for Randy, his teacher and his classmates; for his dad and his dad’s students; for his mom fighting tears, as mothers so often do, at having to let her baby go.

And as I prayed, a lovely thing happened. A quiet murmuring rose up around me like birdsong in the rain.

And suddenly I realized that I was not alone. Generations of others, both living and long departed, were praying for our children and grandchildren, for all children, all teachers, everywhere.

I can’t prove it, but I believe it.

I wish you could’ve heard us.


  1. Rick Zeller says

    Hello Sharon,
    I was searching the editorials today, looking for a commentary that would counter the local paper’s recent editorial slamming California teachers, who only want pay raises from the influx of funding intended for the state’s poorest students. There were no pro-teacher editorials today. Then I found your column. It is pro-teachers, pro-students, pro-grandparents, and saints. Knowing what teachers do, is one thing, seeing it in print, by someone else is another. I do what I do not for recognition, or for the pay (obviously), but because teaching is what I want to do. And as you so eloquently point out, it’s not just to teach, but to care for and discipline and motivate and inspire and set an example for how to live. Sometimes it’s easy and many times it’s hard. But I’m still loving what I do . . . and I will gladly take all the prayers you can send my way. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Sharon ~ You have such a gift to put on paper the heart & soul of many of us who love our kids & grandkids. The first day of school stirs many emotions because we want to make it just right for them yet we can’t go in that room & sit beside them to reassure & help them. So, we pray & hope for good things to happen. Our hearts are heavy as school starts for 2 of our grandchildren. New school, new surroundings, & new changes. Dad is a coach & teacher, mom would be taking them with her tomorrow as she planned to teach at their new school but life was interrupted by a cancer diagnosis for their sweet mom early this summer. Plans change, fears rise up, but we pray & hope for a healthy, bright future, all the while still praying for a good first day of school! It’s all in God’s hands, big and small. What matters to us matters to Him!

  3. Hi Sharon,

    This column was lovely. It brought back a flood of tears and happy memories. My sons are grown and gone now. They grew up in the blink of an eye into fine young men. I still remember their school years. Thank you for sharing.

    Best regards,
    Juliann McPadden

  4. As usual, your column was both moving and funny. I had to chuckle at the image of a classroom of children acting like chihuahuas at a fireworks display, and I admire the teachers who can quiet that very classroom! You also reminded me that I should remember to pray for the teachers as well as my children. And one final note: I’ve always enjoyed reading your column, but you have now earned a special place in my heart. As a grandmother raising her two teenage granddaughters, you can’t imagine what it means to have someone call me a saint! I’ve been called everything else under the sun (nothing I want to repeat in polite company) and it often seems nobody (especially the biological parents) have a clue what an old couple gives up to raise someone else’s children at a time in their lives when they thought they’d finally earned the right to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Bless you!

  5. Kathleen Grove Leveroni says

    Dear Sharon,

    Such a pleasure to read your column! Randy’s grandfather would have related well to your prayers and anxiety waiting to hear that all was well. My youngest grandchild, Savannah, started high school this week. All the others survived and I knew she would too, but always good to hear first hand that that scary first day went well. Soon it will be Wiley’s turn….funny how those names make me feel connected somehow!


    Kathy Grove Leveroni

  6. Sandy Silveira says

    I believe it, too, Sharon. Thank you for this, it’s beautiful. Sharing it with the twenty-five year teacher in our family. Bless you always.

  7. Love this article. We always prayed with our children before they went to school. Now I’m looking forward to praying with my grandkids when they reach school-age.

    In this day and time we live in – our schools, teachers, and children, need all the prayer they can get!

  8. Me again, Sharon. New email address (getting ready to practice retiring!), but same old person! I find I often have a few tears every year about this time as the grandkids keep growing up! I only have one now that’s just itching to get into school & he starts next year. The others are all grown up now at the grand ages of 8 & 9. Their hands get a little bit larger in mine every time they have time to hold Mema’s hand, but I still quietly pray that those great teachers will love them with just a smidge of the love I have for them & teach them all the things I know they have to capture in such a brief time. Thanks again for saying it so much better with such grace & eloquence. You’re such a gem for so many of us!

  9. Love this! I remember sending my kids off each year with their happy smiles and eager energy bouncing up the street. This year we will watch our grandsons head to preschool for the 1st time and will see their excitement at meeting new friends to play and learn with. Not that Pap and I aren’t just a bundle of fun, but we realize we are here to feed, dress, and guide while the time at preschool is what they can’t wait for. Praying with you and all those others.

  10. That is really a lovely column . I waited to send my children to school to learn abc .
    They learnt it in one year . Then I did not send them to college but they went working part time .
    I did not want them to work and study but it was hard for me to afford . They said not to worry as they had the skills to manage both .God bless them ,they did learn more than me ,they worked more than me and now teaching me modern technology at the age I am not willing to learn. Thank u Sharon for all the lovely columns we love to read .
    Soon their kids will go to learn ABC in school ,they already learnt how to speak .

  11. jennifer Atwell says

    Hi Sharon,
    Greetings from Monterey! I loved your column (as always )and so happy to follow your stories as your kids pick up Randy’s torch . (Although I guess acting isn’t too shabby of a career either (-:) Good teachers are gold and we certainly need then now more than ever! My grandson, Adian, Sarah’s eldest, is starting high school in San Luis Obispo this year. It literally seems like 2 years ago when she was in Randy’s science class at MHS! I, too, anxiously awaited the phone call about freshnan orientation yesterday ?!! Hopefully none of us outgrow that ritual!

  12. Sharon,
    I’m the worship leader at our church this Sunday, which is “Back to school” Sunday. With your permission, I’m going to use this as the call to worship.
    Thanks so much for sharing your great gifts of insight and understanding through your writing.

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