Step up: Substitutes needed

VERONICA JOYNER HAS washed and ironed students' clothes. She's combed hair. She's even bought students clean underwear and prescription glasses.They were not acts of kindness, she said, but her duty as their educator.

The needs of the public school student has evolved over the years — more people live in poverty, in violent neighborhoods and broken homes — and so should the role of the teacher, said Joyner, longtime parent advocate and founder of the Mathematics, Civics & Sciences Charter School, Broad Street near Buttonwood.

"They say it takes a village to raise a child," she said. "The school is part of that village.

"A teacher's job is to do one thing: Teach," she added. "And if a child's home life stands in the way, you have to work around it."

For 25 years, Joyner, founder of the parent advocacy group Parents United for Better Schools, has championed the cause of parents who she says face substandard conditions, and often struggle to raise a family on less than poverty wages.

For these reasons, she says that as educators in an urban school district, teachers should understand the plight of parents.

"When a parent wasn't involved, it gave me more motivation to do a better job," Joyner said of her days as a teacher. "They're blaming the parent when they're the professional."

Instead of complaining, she said, teachers should do something. "In the event parents don't step up, you have to step up," she said. "Teachers have to take on another role. They have to have a caring spirit for the children and their parents." *