Why teachers are no longer revered as sacred

In 1971 a scholar by the name of Robert Nisbet claimed that “the man of knowledge and his pursuits were sacred”. Much has changed in the 40 or so years since professor Nisbet wrote those words. And it goes beyond the fact that do we not write only in the masculine gender any more. While teachers are still regarded as knowledgeable, they are no longer revered as sacred. While some may lament, and even resist it, teachers no longer enjoy the “aura of the sacred”, as Nisbet calls it.

In today’s world where technology is moving at the speed of light, young people are very aware that they know more than many of the “over-30s”, especially when it comes to technology. Adults regularly turn to young people for help and coaching on matters of hardware, software and social media.

Old, traditional, hierarchical and patriarchal attitudes are giving way to more collaborative approaches. Old, authoritative, “teacher-centred” or “expert-centred” approaches to teaching are as out as black and white televisions. Are you still lamenting the days when the teacher was worshiped?


Nisbet, R. (1971). The Degradation of the Academic Dogma: The University in America, 1945-1970. N.Y.: Basic Books Inc.


Like this post? Share or Tweet it: Why teachers are no longer revered as sacred http://wp.me/pNAh3-7z

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


6 Responses to Why teachers are no longer revered as sacred

  1. Rachel MacDonald says:

    Hi Sarah, I’m just replying now, a year later!!! Wow. A textbook could do some real damage! Good for you for making it very clear what you will and will not accept.

    Re. your mom’s student. Those tutor relationships and neighbourly friendships are so important to the newcomers I’ve known. It makes such a difference to have one person who cares AND knows the system and culture. Everyone benefits, of course.

    By the way I teach with Penthes Rubrecht! I think she’s a friend of yours? She subs at our agency and leads PD days, etc. And she used to work with my father, so I’ve known of her since I was a child and was happy to meet her when I started working there.

    Yes, isn’t it amazing how many different experiences there are, of school? Now I’m teaching Literacy students, mostly illiterate and certainly unschooled in their first languages. They are very eager to learn and talkative, and DON’T have a lot of fear and expectation like I found in some other students, who do have experience in school. I really enjoy teaching literacy!

    Take care! Rachel.

    • Thanks for your comment, Rachel. Yes, I have known Penthes for years. Isn’t she fantastic?! I heard that she was awarded the 2011 Woman of Distinction Award by the YWCA. Well deserved. She’s brilliant and has made significant contributions to the field. I’d love to hear more about your experience teaching those who are unschooled in their first language…

  2. Rachel MacDonald says:

    Hi Sarah, I also am glad that teachers are recognized for the human beings that we are. Having that “teacher knows all” attitude involves students giving away too much of their power and doesn’t respect the reality that we are all equals in this world. It is good to respect people for their knowledge, and learn from them, but we are all human, and although I might teach someone one thing, they are likely to teach me an essential lifeskill in another area, in the process.

    I’ve had the interesting experience of being held in that sacred regard, after having worked in the schools in Canada for a couple of years.

    I’ve been teaching adult refugees and immigrants, and some of them have a very high respect for teachers. It goes overboard, sometimes, to my mind, but on the other hand, these students are attentive and willing to listen and learn, rather than always challenging the teacher as I found a lot in the schools.

    Strange things have happened. Several times a student from another class would be talking to one of my students in our classroom – at lunchtime! – and as soon as I came in, they would smile sheepishly and apologize and run out of the room, despite my protests!

    One time I particularly remember, it was our class’s turn to clean up the kitchen after lunch. Everyone else was busy wiping the table or whatever, and I picked up a broom and started sweeping. One student came up, grabbed the broom out of my hand and gave me a stern reprimand, “Teacher!” as if I was doing something that teachers should not have to do! I meekly gave her the broom… I suppose I should have asserted that teachers can sweep just like everyone else in Canada, but I was too surprised to say anything! 🙂

    I remember a discussion in class where some of the students said their teachers used to beat them, so they were scared of them and treated them with utmost “respect.” I remember too, my mother talking about how, when she was a child, it was just understood that you stayed quiet and listened to the teacher. And that, when she came to Canada, and began teaching, she was appalled at the way the kids disobeyed and disrespected the teachers. That was in the 60s! She became a librarian instead!

    There are good and bad sides to the story of course. When students’ treatment of teachers as sacred is down graded to simple human respect, that is good, but then when it degrades to disregard and disrespect and contempt for teachers, then we have a problem.

    Personally, I think some of the disrespect comes from the TV and internet generation — a TV or wii or internet enabled computer doesn’t get upset if you talk over it, or ignore it, or talk back to it, make fun of it, throw things at it. This lack of need to consider others can easily extend to teachers – people talking in front of you. (Yes, I’ve had kids throw paper balls and pens at me – it was not fun).
    Despite this, I can thankfully say that most of the kids I worked with were kind, boisterous and generally good people, and I enjoyed getting to know them as human beings. 🙂

    Thanks for your thought-provoking article 🙂

    Take care, Rachel

    • Thanks for the comment Rachel. It reminded me of a time when I was teaching Spanish here in Calgary at a college and a (Canadian-born) student got angry and threw her textbook at me. I reported it to the department head and the student was removed from my class. There’s a distinct difference between not being revered as sacred (which I’m perfectly OK with) and having things hurled at you, which is lies somewhere between lack of respect, just plain unacceptable and borderline violence.

      This is a contract to your story about the broom. It led me to think of the days when I was growing up in Halifax and my Mum worked as a volunteer ESL literacy tutor with newcomers to Canada. Back in those days, the learner came to the house, Mum would put on the kettle and they’d have their tutoring session. I remember one person in particular who pretty much worshipped her, so grateful to have someone to talk to that who wasn’t barking orders at her.

      Amazing the range of experiences out there – for teachers and students alike. Thanks for your comment.

  3. John Simmons says:

    Hi Sarah,

    As a 25 year-plus educator, I am happy that teachers are no longer revered. I am deeply saddened whenever I hear of a teacher abusing a child.

    While younger people are more technologically literate, they lack experience and often maturity. Technology is not to be confused with universal truth or wisdom.

    I think our greatest teachers are those with wisdom, mainly, but not exclusively, elders, and young children. I am blessed to have a 91 year old friend who fought in WW II and who spent 4 years in a POW camp. He is a pacifist.

    The greatest thing of the many things we can learn from young children is how to live in the moment. “The goal in life is to die young…as late as possible.” (Ashley Montagu, 20th century anthropologist)

    John 🙂

    P.S. Beautiful photo of you!

%d bloggers like this: