It sparked a response. After some thought, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) decided not to embed the tweet. It’s not about who said it and firing off a snappy reply. It’s about the difficulty of reducing complex opinions into 140 characters. “If teachers don’t love their students they need to reevaluate themselves as teachers.”

A LOVE story for Valentine's Day: How Robert Indiana's sculpture (not statue)  came to symbolize Philadelphia - 6abc Philadelphia
What is Love? Easier to sculpt than define.

Some responses ran along the lines that love is for family and friends. Others talked about the need for boundaries, something GOT can agree with. Among the more cringe-worthy phrases for him is when teachers talk about their “babies,” because our students are not our babies. We did not conceive them, we did not nourish them and grow them in our bodies for nine months, and we did not go through the pain of childbirth to bring them into the world.

Yet others said that they cared about their students. Isn’t that the same as love? Maybe, maybe not. In the English language, we use the word love for multiple things, including emotion and procreative activity. If we say that teachers should love their students, what exactly are we saying?

To answer the question, GOT turned to a classic definition of love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. (The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, NIV translation.)

Certainly, the ideal teacher is one who is patient, kind, not easily angered, one who is not haughty and demanding obeisance from children (although good ones earn such respect.) Teachers do take pride in the accomplishments of their students, getting excited over those a-ha moments when students master a difficult skill or understand a difficult-for-them, new idea.

Teachers do report the happiness of the learning that takes place for their students, but they do not seek praise for themselves. That should not be mistaken that teachers should not be thanked; everyone deserves recognition and appreciation for the work that they do.

The lack of self-seeking does not equate to self-sacrificing. If the tweeter meant that teachers should be willing to give so much of themselves that they lose their health, sufficiency, and families, that is, if teachers are not willing to become martyrs who give all, then they should not be teachers, that is not love and those who suggest teachers should be martyrs should not themselves be among the ones doing the killing.

Do teachers love their students? They, along with schools, do keep records of wrongs known as parent contact logs when a phone call, email, or note home is sent to inform parents of misbehavior. If a series of behaviors continues to the writing of a discipline referral, those contacts must be documented showing that the teacher tried to resolve a problem before invoking an administrative consequence.

But perhaps the apostle meant that love does not hold past offenses against another, it carries no grudges, and it moves into a restoration of relationship. That too is a part of teaching. Those who think that ‘if only we could get rid of the bad kids, then we would be fine,’ are warned that even if a student goes to alternative school, they will come back. Teaching involves knowing a way to move forward, to always have hope.

Teachers protect their students. While we have school shootings on our minds, there is more to the job than knowing what to do during a drill or actual event. Children are seeking and growing, a process that involves vulnerability and risk. Teachers create safe places where students do not face ridicule or humiliation, places where they are willing to fail so that they may learn.

If this is what the tweeter meant by love, then GOT can agree that teaching involves love.

(But the second part of the tweet deserves its own response.)

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