Teaching children in schools: a sacred trust that demands scrutiny

 

As I recently gave a presentation to a class of fifth-graders, I was reminded of the sacred trust we place in schoolteachers.

When parents send their children off to school, perhaps sometimes reluctantly, they leave their little ones under the tutelage of another adult, someone who may be a complete stranger. Parents entrust with this trained professional the safety, body, mind and future of their children.

What a serious and humbling opportunity and responsibility teaching is. Through instruction, discipline and persuasion teachers have the power to shape the thoughts, opinions, intellects, habits, values, friendships, hopes and dreams of their students.

As I delivered my presentation, the children were eager to learn and participate. They seemed to lean on my every word as well as the word and instructions of their full-time teacher. Though the students in the class are surely not always perfect models of good behavior, they clearly respected their teacher and trusted her to guide and teach them.

Given the sacred trust between parent and teacher and the familial bond between parent and child, one can readily understand why parents expect so much of teachers, and why those expectations extend throughout our communities.

As parents and communities, we hold schoolteachers to an extremely high standard. We expect responsiveness from them and we insist on positive results.

At times, our teachers (and school administrators) may feel underappreciated, criticized, and abused as we debate how to measure their performance and help improve it. I often hear public school teachers protest the amount of scrutiny that parents, school boards, school districts, legislators, media and taxpayers heap upon them.

While I can empathize with this sentiment, such scrutiny, provided that it is respectful, is necessary and appropriate because of the sacred trust teachers hold. Any position of great responsibility demands continual, candid feedback and accountability.

Teachers should recognize that public debate about merit pay, teacher licensing, school funding, vouchers, charter schools, student testing and other reform proposals are not about them but about the children they teach, whether or not they agree with every proposal.

While the opinions of public school teachers are valuable to education reform debate, and teachers should feel free and encouraged to express them, teachers should not resist all change or avoid or object to blunt appraisals of their performance and the school system.

As concerned parents and citizens, we should probably offer more praise to teachers for their tireless dedication and worthy efforts and reward good teachers with higher pay. Despite our scrutiny, teachers should feel respected and appreciated for the good they accomplish.

In the end, all interested parties should acknowledge that school reform debate is not about how to benefit teachers, parents, administrators, the school system or the state but how to provide the best possible education for each individual child.

Our children deserve the very best we can give them. We all have a sacred trust.

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  • Anonymous

    Teachers, probably more than anyone else, realize that the debate is about “how to provide the best possible education for each individual child.” Were it not so, most would have left the profession years ago–they certainly don’t stay for the pay and working conditions.

    Not sure why you imply that teachers are resistant to change. All the teachers I know are very open to change, as long as that change is based on research (not anecdotes) and leads to a quality education for ALL children. Too many proposed reforms do not meet those criteria.

  • Anonymous

    They not only feel underappreciated, criticized, and abused. There is an actual atmosphere of hatred among many Utah lawmakers.
    Being evaluated and receiving constructive criticism is one thing. Being blamed entirely for the ills affecting today’s children without any consideration given to the roles parents and society play in causing and curing those ills is something entirely different. With the antagonism against teachers in Utah, I am surprised any of them stay in this state.

  • Iteach

    Teachers are rightly afraid of adding opinions to the debate, because they will have to deal with whatever happens in school reform and there really are no protections for their speech.  A well- orchestrated attack by an administrator or one or two parents will cost them their job!  The truly interested parties know that school reform has ceased to be about the children and is now about politics, power, money, and a view of society  exemplified the lack of morality, personal ethics and self-serving nature of certain senators who push agendas for themselves and their friends.

  • Anonymous

    Matthew would you say that discussion about the way that you are compensated is not about you?  Regardless, you cannot have a discussion about how to benefit students and exclude the dedicated individuals who interact with them every school day.  A teacher’s working conditions are a student’s learning conditions.  We should not debate any of the issues you mentioned unless they have an effect on student learning. 

    Have you ever stopped to think about why teachers feel like they are not respected and trusted?  What is wrong with the current system that fosters this atmosphere?  We do need reforms, but ones that will foment collaboration among everybody, not ones that will increase the current sense of a lack of professional trust from nearly all policymakers. 

    • Anonymous

      “Matthew would you say that discussion about the way that you are compensated is not about you?”

      Only tangentially.  Obviously it affects me, but it’s more about what is best for my employer and how my pay and performance can be used to help advance my employer’s mission.  If I’m not willing to accept the terms required to advance that mission, based on the priorities and budget constraints of the organization, then I should look for work elsewhere.

      “Have you ever stopped to think about why teachers feel like they are not respected and trusted?”

      Yes.

      “What is wrong with the current system that fosters this atmosphere?”

      Like I wrote in the post, I do think we can do much more to demonstrate gratitude and respect for teachers, including paying the good ones more, but when the legislature and others debate how to improve the entire system or individual schools I think teachers and administrators often get offended when we are merely attempting to address systemic problems and offer solutions to them.