In Loco Parentis: How Much Parentis is Too Much Parentis?
Aside from teaching, what exactly are a teacher’s responsibilities to a student? Is it to be a babysitter or to simply keep the student under control while they are in the classroom? Some people may believe that, but every good teacher knows, and believes, that it is their responsibility to care for their students’ physical, mental, social, and emotional needs while in their charge. This is where in loco parentis comes into play.
The definition of in loco parentis is “in the place of a parent” (Wikipedia, 2014). This definition is from the literal Latin translation of the words “in loco parentis”. A further explanation says that in loco parentis is the “doctrine under which an individual assumes parental rights, duties, and obligations without going through the formalities of legal adoption.” (Farlex, 2014)
The term in loco parentis is believed to have been first associated with education in the mid 1800’s in Manchester, England. The Chealde Hulme School, which was established to educate and care for orphans and children of distressed parents, adopted the term as its school motto. The idea soon spread to the United States and was practiced in both private and public education institutions. In the 1960’s and 70’s, the civil rights movement prompted several Supreme Court cases which challenged the application and scope of in loco parentis. These cases led to in loco parentis being all but extinct in higher education, but it was still quietly practiced in the lower grades. With the emergence into the new century, another cultural shift saw in loco parentis make a resurgence and it is now a widely practiced and accepted concept once again.
So how does this affect teachers and students? Simply, it is a practice that gives a teacher the responsibility of assuming the duties and obligations of a parent while the student is in their care. Aside from caring for their basic well-being, what does this mean? How far are teachers expected to go in acting as the “parent”? Some parents resent the idea of a teacher offering guidance to their students on a social and emotional level. They believe that’s their job alone. But what should a teacher do when a student is crying to them about not fitting in? Tell them to talk to their parents and then turn the other way? Or how about when a student explicitly says they don’t care about school and it’s not important? What if the student’s parent doesn’t do anything to dispel that idea? Should the teacher let it go, or try to motivate the student to learn and advise them of all the opportunities that come from having an education?
It’s a delicate balance between parents and teachers that varies by the student, the parents, and the situation. Teachers can be some of the biggest influences on a child’s life as they spend almost half the year together. This gives teachers a unique opportunity to help in the shaping of each student’s character. Some students are also lacking a parental figure in their home, and teachers can work to fill that void. Parents should take advantage of this by welcoming the sort-of “co-parenting” relationship that in loco parentis offers. The most successful way to maintain that balance is for the teacher and parent to have constant open lines of communication. Also, for the teachers and parents to know more about each other’s ideas and personalities. When you know more about each other it’s easier to understand how much in loco parentis is necessary and appropriate. The main priority should be the overall well-being of the student and when teachers and parents work together in partnership it’s the best recipe for success.
Farlex. (2014). In loco parentis. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from The Free Dictionary: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/In+loco+parentis
Wikipedia. (2014, January 7). in loco parentis. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_loco_parentis
Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
About Hannah T
I am a 2010 graduate with a degree and certification in Elementary Ed., and I have worked with students from birth to junior high. I believe that one of the most important qualities to surviving a teaching career is a sense of humor. I also strongly feel that students are most successful when they are active and hands-on learners. My Mom was a Special Ed. teacher for almost 30 years, and my Dad was an English major, so I enjoy bouncing blog ideas off the two of them. This usually results in an exchange of great stories with my Mom, and a correction in my writing from my Dad. When they're not available, the job falls to my rescue dog, Coozie.