Respecting Teachers

Today, Governor Crist vetoed a bill that would have based teachers’ salaries and job security on the test scores of their students.  In doing so, the Governor stood up for teachers.

Over the past several days, I have spoken to so many Ramat Shalom members who have dedicated their professional lives to teaching children.  Many of these members teach students who get no academic support at home.  As I mentioned in my message last week, a teacher cannot educate a child on her own.  She needs parents, grandparents, coaches, and other mentors to be positive role models and reinforce the lessons that are taught in the classroom.  Sadly, many students do not have these role models.  Too many teachers today not only find themselves having to teach their students how to read and write and perform basic math, they find themselves struggling to teach their students respect, manners, responsibility, hygiene.  Some even need to insure that their students have eaten properly.  No matter how a good a teacher is, if a teacher’s lessons are not reinforced in other aspects of a child’s life, if no one makes certain that the child is doing his homework, if the child has no discipline and structure at home – the child won’t be prepared for school the next day.  This is not the teacher’s fault.  It is, unfortunately, the teacher’s problem.  Today, however, Governor Crist insured that a teacher’s salary and job security will not suffer as a result of the irresponsible behavior of other adults in a child’s life.

Jewish teachings support Governor Crist’s actions.  Our tradition demands that we show our teachers the utmost respect.  Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher, captures this when he wrote in “The Rules of Torah Study”:

Just as a person is obligated to honor and be in awe of his father, similarly, he is obligated to honor and be in awe of his teacher more than his father. If his father and his teacher were each carrying a burden, first he relieves his teacher’s burden and then his father’s.  If his father and his teacher were both held as captives, first he redeems his teacher and then he redeems his father.  There is no greater honor than that due a teacher, and no greater awe than that due a teacher.

Certainly a teacher should be held responsible for his performance in the classroom.  But this should be left up to school administrators who have many ways of measuring this performance and the ability to take action against teachers who are not educating our children properly.  By grading a teacher simply on his students’ performance on standardized tests insults the teacher, his commitment to his students, and the integrity of his lessons.  Teachers deserve our utmost respect. Many of you, especially those who had incredible teachers in your lives yet happened to be terrible test takers, will agree with me that the gifts a good teacher gives to her students cannot be measured by a test.  Fortunately, our Governor realized this and took an important step today.

To all of our teachers, thank you for your wisdom, commitment, and love.  And to all of our students, particularly those who stood up for their teachers this week (thanks to our own Greg Bernstein for playing an important role!), thank you for living the Jewish values that teach us to honor and respect our teachers.

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