Teacher Teacher September Reflection Dr. Milt Sernett
It is September. The kids are back in school, much to the relief of their parents. By the end of summer, some youngsters began singing the “I’m bored” song, so to have them out of the house and in the classroom is a welcome change. Moms and Dads get a break now as teachers take over the role of parents. According to their job description, teachers are “in parentis locus,” a Latin phrase meaning that the educators of our children act with parental authority and responsibility in the classroom. This implies that teachers are to model exemplary behavior, ethics, and morality.
Frances Nelson, a teacher of English (Communication Skills) at Coshocton High School, Coshocton, Ohio, calculated that she and others in her profession have “7 hours a day for 180 days a year to influence: 1,260 hours a year. Total this time by 12 years, and the time is immense: 15,120 hours for teachers to make a difference in the life of a child.”
School boards expect much of those whom they employ to shape the lives of young people. I suspect that educators today feel overburdened by regulatory authorities. I know that some chafe at the “teach to standards” movement that has put so great an emphasis on testing. Still, contemporary educators should give a collective sigh of relief that they are not bound to the “Rules for Teachers” put in place in 1877 by the School Board responsible for the Neales Flat School near Eudunda in southern Australia. Here are the rules:
1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening a week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
5. After 10 hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so he will not become a burden on society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of two shillings and sixpence per week in his pay providing the Board of Education approves.
Given the severity of these “rules for teachers,” I suspect that some who signed on to teach in Neales Flat felt more like hired hands than respected educators.
It may be so today, as the public’s expectations of teachers are muddled and contradictory. We want teachers to act professionally (be good role models), but we treat them as employees. We turn our children over to their care, but we do not care enough to collaborate with them so that classroom expectations are reinforced at home. I can remember a time when membership in the PTA was expected of everyone who brought a child to school. Nowadays, many PTA groups have a difficult time mustering parental support. Founded in 1897 in Washington, DC, the PTA began as the National Congress of Mothers under the leadership of Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson. In the decades that followed, the PTA championed kindergarten classes, hot lunch programs, mandatory immunization, and called on mothers (and fathers) everywhere to improve the lives of children by becoming partners in their education. Today we hear of the PTA’s decline. Many parents seem willing to pass on their responsibilities—adopting the position “let the schools do it.” Ironically, this is taking place simultaneously with a decline in the respect given teachers by the public.
September is a good month to rethink our understanding of what it means to be a “teacher” and of our need to respect, honor, and support good teachers everywhere, including in our churches. A Sunday School teacher is no less an important role model for your child than the woman (or man) to whom you entrust your third-grader in the public school. The Hebrew word for teacher--“rabbi”--carries distinction in the Bible. Though Jesus was technically not a “rabbi,” that is, a doctor of religious law, his disciples and others often addressed him as such. For example, we read:
"Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do, unless God is with him." (John 3:1-2 RSV)