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The ability to love students transcends any professional attributes a teacher may possess, Brigham Young University President Jeffrey R. Holland told a conference of childhood educators Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Holland was a keynote speaker at the American Childhood Educational International conference held Thursday through Sunday in the Salt Lake Marriott Hotel.Calling it the sine qua non of the teaching profession, Holland said love is what keeps teachers going, despite the hard times. He added that the quality of love and spirit of compassion, not technical training, are what qualify teachers for their profession.

Children are extremely sensitive and can tell when love and interest are feigned, Holland said.

Holland challenged the educators to love all children, especially the ones who are harder to love.

"Be free of the prejudice we sometimes carry with us," he said.

Holland said children today are faced with four apocalyptic horsemen: poverty, chaos, isolation and abandonment of responsibility to love neighbors. Teachers can't do much to solve chaos or poverty, but they can help children overcome feelings of isolation and lack of love, Holland said.

The BYU president urged the educators to link children to their families, saying that even the most imperfect family is far better than government agencies that might try to step into help the kids.

"Early childhood education is best when it approximates in quality and structure what parents at their best would give their children," Holland said.

Part of the duty to love children, Holland said, is to notify authorities of cases involving child abuse. He also urged the conference participants to work with parents and get them to participate in childhood education. "Make bad parents good and good parents better," he said.

"There is no comparable substitute for families," Holland said. He also promised educators that parents, especially single parents, would respond to teachers' interest in their children.

Teachers cannot afford to decide in advance which of their children will be successes and which will be failures, Holland said.

"Your task is to nurture, invite, love and care," he said.