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Written by Gradye Parsons

Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.

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April 6, 2011

April 2011-Monthly column featuring Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons

When did attitudes about teachers change?

Miss Kingree, Mrs. Barnes, and Mrs. Wesson were already teaching legends at my high school when I was a freshman. Barnes and Wesson taught algebra; Kingree, first-year English.

All three were farmers and all three were tough. At some point, they each walked the halls with pretty serious farm injuries. But they never missed a day of class – as I said, they were tough. Forty-plus years later, I can look at their photos in my high school yearbook and still get that feeling in my stomach that they might call on me in class. But they were also good, very good. They had honed their teaching skills to the point that, despite all of our collective efforts, we left their classes smarter than we arrived. I thank them now when I appreciate a great book or analyze a basketball bracket.

Education is wonderful – and important. It’s been an emphasis in the Reformed tradition since the beginning when Calvin wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible. Presbyterians have carried forward that emphasis through a long history of starting, building, and supporting education – from one-room schools to entire universities like Princeton.

Educators have been the key to it all. Many of our ministers have been teachers. And it would take all of my algebra skills to calculate how many elders have been, and are, teachers and principals.

I have to confess that I don’t understand the current debate that characterizes teachers as privileged public employees. Truth is, they really don’t have summers off. They spend much of that time taking required courses. And they don’t go home at 3:00. But even if they did, they’d still carry with them heavy bags of papers to grade.

When did attitudes about teachers change? Perhaps it was when we went to whiteboards instead of chalkboards. Gone are the days when students used to beat erasers on the outside school wall to clean them as punishment for bad behavior. I wish those days were back: There are some public officials and television commentators who need to stay after school and clean those erasers.

The Reverend Gradye Parsons is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Tags: letters, monthly column, office of the general assembly, statements


  1. When I ask teachers and administrators the biggest hurdle they face they consistently say, "parents". Add the increasingly difficult mandates placed on schools and the loss of respect teachers receive from our society, and you see why they feel so vulnerable. But. Bob Campbell is not completely accurate when he states that the economy is the culprit behind state budget deficits. It certainly is a major factor. But we cannot sustain the benefits--especially the early retirements and medical/pension deals--our public employees have. The states cannot print money and they should not squeeze it out of our already bleeding pockets. Teachers and government employees, like business people have been doing for half a decade, will have to start making some economic sacrifices. Will their unions accept this, or will they refuse to budge and help cause massive layoffs?

    by Mike Riggins

    April 7, 2011

  2. I suspect that attitudes about teachers changed about the same time attitudes about pastors changed. It used to be that doctors, lawyers, pastors and teachers were the only people with college degrees in the community. Their educations gave them status in the community. Even though many more people received college educations after WWII the respect for pastors and teachers went on, I think, until sometime in the 1970s. If you got in trouble at school you were in even more trouble at home. Sometime during the 70s when I was in college and then seminary parents stopped assuming that teachers were always right and their children were wrong. Now for many parents the child was right and the teacher was wrong. The respect in the community went out the window. None of that answers the question of why teachers benefits are under question by governments. In reality states aren't balancing their budgets because of the economy, not because of teacher's benefits. Clearly there are strong requirements for someone to become a teacher. There are no requirements for someone to become a legislator except the vote of the people.

    by Robert Campbell

    April 7, 2011

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