How to Pray for the New School Year

This article originally appeared in our monthly email issue. Subscribe for full access to Common Good print and digital reads now for just $25 per year.


On the last day of class one year, a student handed me a gift — a Middle Eastern fabric with biscuit-colored tassels and an intricate design. I’m sure I looked at her in surprise, mouth open. I rarely received gifts for my work inside the classroom, but she and I had connected that year.

“Thank you,” she said simply.

Her gesture was kind, unexpected, and, in its own way, embodied the gift I’d given to her: my time, encouragement, and teaching. Since most students left the classroom without a backward glance, glad to move on to whatever came next, this moment proved to live on as a memory for which I’m increasingly grateful — a monument declaring that my work is both valuable and valued.

Education has changed dramatically since I received that gift in my first years of teaching. According to one study, more than 50 percent of surveyed teachers in 2022 considered leaving the profession. Teachers reported experiencing burnout, anxiety, and stress at higher levels than other government employees, suggesting that the changes and events of more recent years have deeply affected their views of the job. Another study recently criticized the term “burnout,” suggesting it blames teachers instead of external pressures, where the blame belongs. These findings unveil that many of us teachers are bracing for a new teaching year instead of anticipating it.

In April 1744, another educator looked down the hall at a new teaching year. New England Protestant Sarah Osborn had stopped teaching, but was being asked to return to the school. Always concerned about her spiritual life as an offering before God, she penned these words in her diary:

Lord, thou art worthy of infinitely more love and praise than I am capable of giving: But oh, accept my attempts to love and praise, for Jesus’ sake alone.


For Osborn, teaching in her community’s school was an act of worship, her obedience to God’s desires for her life. While she would pray in front of her students, religious education was not her primary focus. Yet, her teaching was a spiritual gift to her maker.

Like many educators, she had her reasons for teaching that had less to do with money or fame and more to do with conscience:

Will the Lord in mercy bless my endeavors, and prosper the work of my hands, and overrule this for his own glory, by making me instrumental in promoting the good of souls.

She desired God to use her in his way — to use her for the good of her students’ souls. Maybe she had more freedom in what she taught, but this is part of the profound gift teachers are given: to shape both minds and lives, if given the opportunity.

Osborn’s pastor, prominent New England theologian Samuel Hopkins, compiled and annotated her memoir. He chose to include excerpts from her diary that contemplated her life as an educator. For Samuel and for Osborn, the education she provided profoundly and positively impacted their community. Concerning Sarah’s 30 years of teaching, Hopkins considered how her “many hundreds” of students still esteemed their beloved teacher and remembered the instruction given them: “We may reasonably consider some of them now in heaven with her, as her glory,” he wrote. As she filled this need in her community, Osborn’s influence extended to students whom she may have never met otherwise. She marked the community’s educational landscape profoundly and, in her own way, evidenced God’s care for her students through a ministry of presence.

In some ways, Osborn was just an ordinary person in history, doing what she could with what little she had. She wasn’t particularly wealthy, influential, or gifted. She taught at a local school and parented her children. She cared for and ministered to her community, living out the spiritual instruction of her time, bringing God’s care for her students into her classroom.

What Osborn prayed for at the start of her teaching career was eventually realized to a degree she could never have predicted. God did bless her endeavors, prosper the work of her hands, and use her for the good of her students’ souls. She may not have seen all the fruit of her work in her lifetime, but we see it even now. Sarah’s community greatly benefited from those like her and those like us: teachers navigating that ever changing, ever demanding call to presence.

As a new school year approaches, I admit what’s ahead comes with its share of challenges. We can concede our humanity, our limits, and our fears. But we can also recognize the growth and the courage that each classroom demands of us as educators, and we can acknowledge that the teaching we do within our communities and homes is valuable.

At one point in her ministry, Osborn prayed in her diary: “Use me as thou wilt; only preserve thine own honor, and it is enough.” Just like Osborn, we can pray this and her previous prayer over our work in the classroom and in each student’s life: Bless our endeavors, prosper the work of our hands, use us for the good of our students’ souls.

The cloth from a former student remains tucked away, infrequently pulled out by curious little ones intrigued by the bright colors — a reminder that the work I’ve done is good. Maybe now, after all of these years, I need this reminder more than ever.

Scroll to Top