In Loco Parentis



This morning I read a post entitled “I Don’t Think Teachers Know What They’re Doing.” No, it’s not a diatribe about the poor state of education in America. It’s a lovely homage to the teachers who have graced the lives of the writer’s children. As I read the piece, I reflected on how true that statement is, in both the positive and negative sense. Teachers have no idea the dramatic impact they can have on a student’s life – for better or worse.

The number one criterion for a teaching certificate should be a love for children. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to spend his or her days with dozens – or in the case of secondary school – hundreds of students without being absolutely crazy about kids. My children’s elementary school has seen a succession of lackluster and, in some cases, even mean-spirited principals. Finally the district asked for parental input on choosing a new one. The predominant request from parents was simple: a person who likes kids. The feedback worked! The school now has a principal whose former students adore him, who plays guitar, and who recently sent home a video of himself roller blading through the hallways of the school to “check on” the facilities. Who wouldn’t love to go to a school with such a man at the helm?

On the negative side, I have seen souls crushed by cold and unfeeling teachers. When my oldest child was in kindergarten, she had a cold and controlling teacher. Each afternoon she had the children line up to shake her hand and say goodbye. My daughter, an affectionate six-year-old, would always give her a giant hug, but Mrs. M. never returned it. I had to wonder why this woman would choose to teach, not just children, but the youngest ones.  A kindergarten teacher should be a second mom or dad, not an authoritarian dictator.

Our schools are known to function in loco parentis, which means literally “in place of the parent.” I believe educators should see this role beyond its strict legal definition. School should be a child’s home away from home, especially when many children’s home environments are stressful and chaotic. And when you think about it, on a school day children spend more time interacting with teachers than with their parents. Teachers are so much more than dispensers of knowledge and skill. They shape students’ lives.

My senior year of high school, I had a curmudgeonly but lovable old teacher named Mr. Stringfellow. When Mr. Stringfellow put that British Lit anthology under my nose and expounded on the beauty of literature, he truly did not know what he was doing. He was creating a future teacher. When I became a teacher, my students were almost literally my kids. I cared about them and tried to nurture their curiosity and creativity along with their reading and writing skills. I went to their athletic events, concerts and plays. When my first batch of students graduated four years later, I was like a proud mama as I watched them cross the stage to receive their diplomas.

Of course we should expect our teachers to be well educated and smart. Good teachers need sound mastery of their subject matter and an arsenal of teaching and discipline techniques. But they also need a large and generous heart. These are the teachers our children will remember and perhaps credit with some of their achievements.

If you would like to read the post “I Don’t Think Teachers Know What They’re Doing,” please click on the following link:


3 thoughts on “In Loco Parentis

  1. Mary, the great teachers (like you) chose the teaching career to pursue a noble career: shaping and sculpting young minds for their future lives. Unfortunately, the negative teachers chose education as a career just to get a pay check, game the retirement system, and use kids for their own control issues rather than to actually teach! Fortunately, the great teachers are the ones most of us remember and emulate.


  2. Laura Ettema

    Mary, you are one of the great teachers you write about here. You brought literature and writing to life and challenged me to think past what was directly in front of me- and via the wonders of social media you still are all these years later! You are so right to wonder why on earth a kindergarten teacher would be teaching the most loving littlest of the littles if she didn’t live littles! I actually cried for you daughter- I have taught with those teachers, they don’t last long in kindergarten- I believe the children love them right out! Thank you for this post, but more than that, thank you for caring about me enough that I knew I was important in your eyes during some of the most awkward and invisible years of my life!


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