Opinion
Education Opinion

In Praise of Elementary School Teachers

By Walt Gardner — November 04, 2013 1 min read

I’ve never taught in elementary school, but I know I wouldn’t have lasted anywhere close to the 28 years that I taught in high school. I thought of this after reading about the differences in development between boys and girls (“What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed,” Time, Oct. 28).

Although the sexes behave differently in high school, the contrast is not as pronounced as it is in 5- and 6-year-old children. Yet strangely, we expect boys of that age and a few years beyond not to be restless and unfocused but instead to behave like girls. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why this strategy is a prescription for trouble. Nevertheless, some people claim that elementary school teachers have it easier than their high school colleagues because the lessons they prepare are simple to adults in terms of subject matter. But they miss the point. The lessons are actually harder in terms of pedagogy. Anyone who disagrees should try holding the attention of a small group of young children for a day. It’s exhausting.

Then there’s the issue of maintaining a proper professional boundary in elementary school. If a child cries, a teacher instinctively wants to comfort the child. But in doing so, what constitutes grounds for inappropriate contact? In high school, the teacher can let a crying student leave the room. Elementary teachers do that at their peril. Who knows where that child will go?

Young children also have vivid imaginations and are highly suggestible. The McMartin Preschool case that began in 1984 and finally ended in 1990 in Los Angeles County proved that to be true. The district attorney ruined the lives of the teachers at the school by relying on claims made by children and their parents that they had been sexually molested and subjected to satanic rituals. It subsequently turned out that no such thing had happened. All 321 counts of child abuse were eventually dropped in what was the longest and most expensive criminal case in this country, but the damage was already done to those named in the indictment.

In light of the unique responsibilities that elementary school teachers shoulder on a daily basis, I take my hat off to them for what they manage to accomplish. I couldn’t do their job. I wish others would pay them the same respect.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Branding your district matters. This webinar will provide you with practical tips and strategies to elevate your brand from three veteran professionals, each of whom has been directly responsible for building their own district’s brand.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school districts are using hybrid learning right now with varying degrees of success. Students and teachers are getting restless and frustrated with online learning, making curriculum engagement difficult and disjointed. While
Content provided by Samsung

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Principal-Elementary School
San Antonio, TX, US
Southwest Independent School District
Principal-Elementary School
San Antonio, TX, US
Southwest Independent School District
Principal-Elementary School
San Antonio, TX, US
Southwest Independent School District
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read