teachers, parents, and legislators (Oh my…)

Self-portrait my last day as a teacher

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since I last walked out of my classroom and said “goodbye” to my teaching career.

I enjoyed teaching SED (severely emotionally disturbed) kids for the best part of two decades. My work provided a unique opportunity to bring stability, hope, peace, grace, encouragement and love into the lives of children who were tragically compromised in their ability to behave appropriately, to learn, and to interact with the world.

But by 2002 it was time to redirect my energies and my creativity. My new career as author/speaker/writer/consultant has developed into a broad-based ministry where I’m privileged to reach literally thousands of people.

Heading back to school next week

THE BOTTOM LINE: I haven’t penned a book on my experiences – yet – but have written a lot of newspaper commentary about public education. And today, with almost 200,000 Hillsborough County public school students gearing up to return to the classroom next week, I’ve prepared the following “Top Six” list (10 was too long!) to think about.

  1. EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: Seriously, folks. When I taught middle school I had the kids seven hours, five days a week, for a max total of 180 days. That’s 14.4% of the year, given perfect attendance. However, parents don’t get off that easily! Not only are they responsible for the other 85.6% of the child’s life, they’re also responsible when their child is at school.
  2. EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: (Wasn’t this #1?) Well yes, but I’m not nearly done! Kids learn all the time. The question is, “What are they learning?” If education is not valued at home, then that reality becomes a strong, consistent lesson that shapes a child’s disposition toward learning. Likewise honesty, kindness, respect, attitude, tenacity, commitment and more.
  3. “Hey, legislators, leave those teachers alone…”

    EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: (Really? Not done yet?) Nope, there’s a lot more. This point is for our lovely lawmakers in Tallahassee (and the other state houses too). We understand your frustration, politicians; we realize that you can’t get your hands on the parents and you can’t go inside their homes and make them do the right thing (and we’re so glad that you can’t). But that’s no reason to make teachers’ lives so difficult! Listen, because this is important, “MAKING TEACHERS MISERABLE MAY HELP YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING… BUT IT ONLY MAKES THINGS WORSE FOR THE KIDS… SO STOP IT!”

  4. EDUCATION IS THE PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY: (Okay, enough already, we get it!) Just one more point. Schools are still pretty-much set up according to the old industrial revolution factory model. Schools are, to some extent, sausage machines. But YOUR CHILD is an individual! This means that the enrichment end of the equation – the museums and art classes and piano lessons and trips to the Grand Canyon and Scrabble games and novels and long discussions over the dinner table etc. etc. – are (you’ve guessed it) the responsibility of the parents.
  5. SEIZE THE DAY!!!! Don’t misunderstand me. What goes on at school is critically important. But it’s only a small fraction of the interactive puzzle of raising a child. Every moment has the potential to be a teachable moment. So teach already, parents! Throw yourself into it with gusto and joy, and don’t wait for someone else to educate your child.
  6. INVITE GOD INTO THE MIX: Education may well be the responsibility of the parents, but they don’t have to do it alone. Dedicate your family to God. Be invested in a faith community. Make sure that God is preeminent in the home. And make sure that one of the most solid truths that your child learns from you is a faithful, committed relationship with their Creator.



  1. Hi, Derek,

    We also shouldn’t forget that parents have the responsibility for setting the stage for in-school education for the time from birth until that very first classroom day. A lot of attitudes are already set in place by then by those most primary educators called parents. It’s also so very sad that, almost always, teachers, in their 14.4% contact with children, probably engage the children in meaningful conversation and real interpersonal contact hundreds of times more than the parents in their 85.6% contact. Typically, fathers in our society actually have total conversational time of less than a minute a day with a child. They typically hobnob with coworkers about sports at the workplace water cooler more in a day than they interact with those “precious children” that they claim they love. Look at that hypocritical behavior, fathers. And sometimes mothers fare little better. Peace and Blessings, Henry


  2. Derek, you were a good and wise teacher (still are, in a different context) but you have outdone yourself here. Thank you and God Bless you and your work.


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