“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 2012.
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, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown, Connecticut. We will remember.