Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In Loco Parentis

“And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.  It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself.  That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.  And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.” – from President Obama’s address to the people of Newtown, CT.

In loco parentis

Latin: In loco parentis literally means “in the place of the parent.”  In loco parentis is a legal concept or doctrine, which places the responsibility or duties of parenting upon an individual (the teacher in an educational setting) without the formal adoption of a child.  The assumption of such duties in education reaches back to the establishment of orphanages and vocational schools, where students not only enrolled but were also considered wards.  The Cheadle Hulme School in Britain still displays the “in loco parentis” under its formal escutcheon.  The school was originally founded in the  mid-19th Century by a group of concerned businessmen who named it The Manchester Warehousemen and Clerks’ Orphan School.   Since then, the legal term has become a cornerstone of the legal, moral and trusting relationship between educator and student. 

Beyond the required duties found often in a District’s teacher job descriptions – “to file reports in timely manner, keep accurate attendance records, share confidential grading information with parents in judicious fashion, and adhere to all policies set forth by the state and Board of Education”– those entering the profession often find themselves something quite more. 

Any teacher might also add just a few more in this incomplete list.

Delivering the almost-perfect lesson, sharing a smile, modeling good behavior, assisting in comprehending a sticky problem, solving a sudden social stumble, in some cases providing a nutritious meal, finding a new friend, preventing bullying, notifying an unknowing parent, clarifying an earlier explanation, reprimanding blatant inappropriateness, reading a great story, teaching dynamically, wiping an occasional tear, blowing a runny nose, finding some lost assignment, preparing for a chapter test, touching up a dropped project, understanding what we’ve learned or accomplished, recording (physical, intellectual, or other) growth, laughing out loud, smiling knowingly, giving serious directives, sharing the goal to improve, inspiring  the entire group, rallying the defeated, telling a small joke, practicing empathy, communicating truth, pushing the lethargic, encouraging the industrious, assessing their understanding, emboldening the shyly curious, releasing the chaos of creativity, unveiling resourcefulness, containing a confidence carefully, illuminating the self, celebrating the small steps, awarding noteworthy accomplishment, fighting injustices, providing for absent materials, capturing potentiality, mediating a conflict, keeping those falling behind alongside, meeting after classes, meeting before classes, tutoring to give confidence, coaching a student to believe in one’s self, calling the sick at home, reacting enthusiastically, pretending enthusiasm when necessary, decorating the room, celebrating the holidays, drafting an essay, crafting a thought into a sentence, exhibiting shared trust, muddling through a theorem, applying an earlier formula,  sometimes being silly, acknowledging individuality, generating theses, sounding out a word, giving hope, and making believe. 

In honor of the 20 children, 6 educators, and 2 adults, lost on Friday, December 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown, Connecticut.  


  1. Teachers inspire, influence and move their students to action.
    They take a student’s potentiality and make it an actuality.
    They offer their help to others because of their compassion and their empathy, because of their humility and their dignity.
    They communicate truths because of their integrity.
    They never give up because of their moral responsibility towards their students and the importance of trust.
    They fight against injustices.
    They understand; they discuss; they mediate, and they act.
    They do what is right and model their behavior for their students.
    They hold themselves accountable for what they do and what they believe is true.
    They set an example for students.

    Teachers are leaders, consultants, diagnosticians and evaluators.
    They are life-long learners.
    They are architects for the experiences of their students.
    They are responsible, intrepid and just.
    They are one of last bastions of hope for a society driven by amoral envy and indifferent greed.
    They protect their students, even if it means sacrificing their own lives.

    1. Thank you, Glen. I plan to add to this simplistic list in which I have of course overlooked so many facets of the sacred bond between adult and child. We are all devastated by the events at Sandy Hook Elementary.


    2. Thank you, John and Glen, for these eloquent, touching, and important reminders

  2. Funny you should write this post (Not funny ha ha. Funny as a coincidence). I just posted this question on Facebook: "I was thinking about a blog post I want to write. Do any other professionals (non-military) besides teachers get special training for the possibility of a terrorist or mass murderer entering their place of work? We are trained, we have drills, we train our students how to behave if this were to happen in our school. We have AT LEAST one lock down drill a year. I can't think of anybody else who does this. Can you?"

    1. And, if it were done as in my district, vacation days were used for local police departments to come in and perform gun-drawn lock downs and sweeps while students were not there to assess best logistics. We have evolved from missing kids' pictures on milk cartons to high security at the elementary school door. Meanwhile the executive director of the Illinois Rifle Association, Richard Pearson, proposes that armed teachers would have prevented the tragedy from happening. If only the teachers had been armed.

      I might rebut the kindergartners should have been carrying Glocks, but he would say such an idea was ridiculous. At least he might be able to draw a line? But then again...

  3. Thank you, John.
    Teachers know this at some level of our thinking at all times. Verbalizing what we have all attempted to varying degrees of success and failure helps us to recognize our kinship as teachers.
    As I attended an ex-student's wedding and danced with her as a new bride, she reached up and held my face. "You know I've always loved you, and you know why," she smiled.
    Never having such a direct address of affection, I had no reply. I simply hugged her as she hugged back. I had no idea what she thought I knew, but I knew what she meant.
    Her brother, also an ex-student, hugged me rather drunkenly later that evening and said, "I have no idea how you ever put up with a son-of-a-bitch like me." We both laughed like idiots for a few moments. I have no idea what he thought I remembered, but I knew what he meant.
    Your articulate message puts words to what happened that I didn't need to remember as a particular event.

    1. What a great memory.

      I lost a favorite student in a climbing accident some years ago. We never got to share those occasions between us surrounded by shared enlightenment, respect, and growth. I still think of him and of the positive force he might have become. We are graced when we see our earlier responsibilities have become the people who populate our wonderful, eccentric, and creative world.

      Thanks for sharing.


  4. For my students: Chuck Huber, Kurt Paulius, Chris Kirschner, Joel Rothschild, Carter Denton…

    Meditation 17 by John Donne

    From "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" (1623), XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris - "Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die."

    [For All of Us]:
    “…No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece
    of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by
    the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and
    therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”