And we should support them.
The Book of James puts it plainly: “Not many of you should become teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
Although he wasn’t talking about third-grade generalists or middle school history instructors or high school advanced placement calculus masters, teachers in our communities know all too well that what James meant about religious educators applies to them, too. Sometimes too much so.
Teaching is a calling more than a job. Teachers don’t teach to make a lot of money. Most teachers will live month to month on the meager income our tax dollars or tuition charges provide because we say out of one side of our mouth how important they are and out of the other side that we can’t afford to pay them what they are worth to us. They accept this with uncommon grace, and they return to the classroom year after year to attend to their work.
Teachers love learning and want to share that love with young people coming behind them. They live for those moments when the light turns on in the eyes of a child who gets “it” for the first time. Their hearts leap when a student’s new knowledge leads to wonder, and wonder to questioning, which in turn leads to new knowledge and wonder and questioning — and so on and so on for a lifetime of learning.
When we whittle away at the heart of a teacher’s calling by relentless criticism, we undermine the profession and endanger the whole enterprise of education. We hear a lot these days about teacher assessment and accountability. Teachers get that. They know James was right about the strictness of judgment that goes with the territory. They shouldn’t get a pass if they are failing. But we can all help them be their best by remembering that education is a team effort and that we all must do our part to get successful outcomes.
To that end, here are a few thoughts about what we can do to make this a good school year:
• Education begins at home. Parents create a culture of learning by the environment they create day by day in the family. Parental discipline about homework, time management, nutrition and sleep is crucial.
• Parents can insist that their children respect the authority of teachers in the classroom. The teacher may not always be right, but “the teacher is right” should be the working assumption of parents before they rush to the defense of their kids. Kids need to know there is a conspiracy of elders against their ignorance.
• Principals can advocate for teachers. They need to run interference for them between district administrators and parents, so that teachers are not bogged down with duties that keep them from their main assignment of educating kids.
• Community leaders and taxpayers can look for ways to encourage the work of teachers and elevate the profession rather than chipping away at it through constant chirping. When we ask what’s going right with teachers, we create the conditions for greater success than when we ask what’s going wrong.
Good education is the foundation of effective democracy and a decent society. Teachers need more than an apple on their desk to do their part; they need partners working with them, for them and alongside them.