Saturday Column: New challenges put even more focus on teachers

Several weeks ago, this writer participated in a panel discussion at the 100th birthday celebration of Cordley School. Panelists were asked to reminisce about their years at the elementary school, recalling significant events, teachers who made lasting impressions, student-parent-teacher activities and other memories.

There isn’t any way to determine whether those of us who attended Cordley in past years were exposed to a better or poorer educational experience than today’s students, but it is clear Lawrence was smaller, there was a greater sense of community, and the elementary school “family” — students, teachers, parents and siblings — probably was more united, knew more about one another and focused more attention on school and school-related activities than is the case today. School, K-12, was the central focus and tied the community together. There was no television, Facebook or any of the modern communication devices that now command so much of an individual’s time and attention.

The one constant between grade schools of past years and the present is the critical role of teachers.

The old saying “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree” is just as relevant today as it was years ago, and it is clear, at least to this writer, that elementary school teachers serve as the first important front line in instilling values, discipline and the joy and excitement of learning in their students.

This being the case, is sufficient attention being given to the critical role teachers play in our society?

This question could and should be asked in all communities, of all sizes, but it is likely to be even more relevant in towns like Lawrence, Manhattan and other university towns, where more attention may be given to higher education faculty than to teachers in elementary, middle or high school classrooms.

It is wrong to suggest any specific level of teaching is more important or carries a higher priority than another, but it is important that the public (taxpayers) realize the importance of maintaining compensation levels sufficient to attract, and hold, talented and committed teachers.

The importance of elementary school teachers may be even greater today because of the environment in which they operate. For example, it is likely the vast majority of elementary students years ago returned to two-parent homes than is the case today. Today there are more single-parent homes and more families in which both parents work outside the home.

In some cases, parents today may not have as much time to spend with their children, providing guidance and counseling. In such situations, teachers play an even more important role in establishing learning and work habits along with social skills, manners and good citizenship.

The current Cordley building is much larger than the original Cordley, but it is hoped the quality of teachers and the commitment of the teachers is just as intense or better today than it was years ago. There’s no question that the demands of today’s environment present added challenges for the teachers.

This being the case, it is more important than ever that the “twig’ is bent in the proper way by today’s elementary school teachers. Good salaries are one way to ensure students will have good teachers.