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.