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Web letter by Lee Harman: Teachers put on front lines of shooting war

In loco parentis (“in the place of a parent”) is a legal doctrine under which an individual assumes parental rights, duties and obligations. While educators have held these responsibilities for many years, nowhere in recent memory has there been greater evidence of just how committed they are to fulfilling those duties than what occurred in Newtown, Conn.: A principal and counselor who rushed toward the sound of gunfire, rather than away from it, and died as a result. Teachers who led students to safety at the risk of their own lives. Other teachers who were murdered as they sheltered their children with their own bodies.

Year after year, our society has laid new responsibility after new responsibility at the doorstep of our schools. The trite maxim “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” has never been further from the truth than it is today.

In addition to being held responsible for the academic growth of their students, educators are being asked to repair an abundance of problems created by our popular culture and the breakdown of the family. They are told to do this in the roughly 35 hours a week that their students are under their care. Then, for the other 133 hours in the week, those students go back into what is, in way too many cases, a morally toxic environment. Nevertheless, our educators soldier on, doing their best to impart traditional values as well as academic skills to their students. Our daughter teaches high school Spanish in Ohio. Wife to Derek, and the mother of a 9-year-old, she told us recently in a phone conversation, “I’ve already told Derek that if something like this happens in our school, don’t expect me to do anything else than to protect my students. I’m a teacher – that’s what we do. I will do all I can do for my students.” I believe she speaks for all the teachers, principals, superintendents and support staff in our schools.

For years, our educators have been on the front lines of the culture wars. Now it appears they are also on the front lines of a shooting war. When you pray for the families of Newtown who have suffered such tragic losses, please pray for our educators as well. They need our support and understanding for all the ways they, each day, show care and concern for our young people.