When Did We Lose Touch?

Now and then I have these “scramble” moments…sort of like those old black and white WWII movies where the fighter jocks are hanging out, the air raid sirens sound, and the next thing you know the air is lousy with Mustangs and Spitfires and Messerschmidts and some brit sqaudron commander is yelling “tally-ho” to signal an attack.

Those moments are sort of an out of nowhere assault on logic and expectation, and I had one during a teacher conference the other day.

SWMBO and I were talking with a teacher and principal at WMD#1’s elementary school.  The principal allowed that she lived in Loudoun County, and not close hereabouts.  I made a light passing comment about it being too bad that teachers and school staff weren’t paid enough to live in the school districts where they taught.  The reply was that this person chose to live a long way from where she taught so as not to interact too much with the students outside the school…that to do otherwise could compromise objectivity.

To my wife’s amazement, I was able to keep my mouth shut…which was difficult, as my first instinct was “say what?”

I had not given it much thought until then.  I have come to find that this is the norm these days.  WMD#1’s teacher lives in our neighborhood, but she is the exception.  Apparently teachers are worried about becoming too close to students, having their objectivity potentially diminished, and also not wanting to have to worry about harrassment from students and parents in disagreements over grades, test scores, and discplinary measures.

I still thought “say what?”, because I was not sure who or what this concept shows worse against.  Teachers? Parents? Students? Society?

You see, back in the day when I was growing up in Manassas-which, of that time and place, more and more seems like  “Lake Wobegone South”-teachers were considered as much a part of society as doctors, lawyers, merchants, laborers, masons, carpenters, and everyone other trade or profession.  Teachers were members of local organizations, and of the hospital auxilary.  Their presence helped form an inchoate but living network-you never acted up in school, because you never knew when your teacher might pass the word to Mom in the grocery store, or at Rohr’s, or at the Fire Company Steak Dinner.  Teachers were treated with respect not just because of what they did, but because they sought a chance to be not just educators but also members of the community.

Apparently that is not the case anymore.  Apparently not being in touch with a community is part of the big game plan these days.

Sometimes I think I skipped a generation in community mores.  I got married fairly late in life, and at a time when my oldest is in second grade my college classmates are attending commencement exercises to watch their children get their diplomas.  When I see how things are done in schools, I often feel a disconnect between what I experienced in the mid-late sixties and into the seventies and how things are done now.

That being said, when did it become a bad idea for teachers to see their students outside of school?  When did someone start to get the idea that teachers effectiveness was diminished by living inside the community where they teach?  When did we start to lose touch…with ourselves, with each other, and with commonsense?

Being part of a community is more than punching a clock, doing your job, and then driving into another jurisdiction to go home.   Being part of a community means living, shopping AND working there. It means having a feel for the problems and crises of the area, and a sense of how that affects your students.  At old Bennet Elementary Mrs. Virginia Parks taught my father, my sister, and moi, and to each one she brought a different technique based on her experience and her understanding of what our lives and our shared community was like.

Apparently Mrs. Parks, who taught successfully in Manassas for over forty  years and sent children out of her classroom ready to push on and succeed in life, would be out of step these days.  More is the pity.


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