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A Teacher's Worst Nightmare

The abrupt request for a leave of absence by a ten-year veteran high school art teacher only two weeks after the start of the fall semester serves as a reminder that accountability is still a one-way street. According to a column in the Los Angeles Times, Jeremy Davidson was done in by a combination of factors all too familiar in these troubled times to public school teachers ("At Manual Arts High, a caring teacher is at the end of his rope," Sept. 24).

What happened was that students in Davidson's ninth-grade drawing class at Manual Arts High School turned the classroom into a blackboard jungle. They hit each other with rulers, threw papers around the room, failed to remain in their seats, talked over the teacher and blocked the door from closing. This on a campus designed for 1,000 students but overloaded with 3,200.

Davidson called for security, but help never arrived. When he appealed to the principal for support, he was given a checklist of strategies, including contacting the parents, engaging the students and treating them with respect. After many sleepless nights, Davidson at first wanted to resign. At the eleventh hour, however, he decided instead to take a leave of absence.

Several questions immediately came to mind after I read the account. First, where was United Teachers of Los Angeles? The union is supposed to intervene on behalf of teachers when they are faced with these appalling matters. Did Davidson ask for help from UTLA? If not, why? If so, what was UTLA's response? Second, why are teachers automatically assumed to be the cause of outrageous student behavior? Most appalling was the principal's question if Davidson had treated students with respect? What about students treating teachers with respect? Finally, what is the response by the reform group LA's Promise, which operates Manual Arts? Isn't promoting a climate conducive to learning one of its selling points?

I don't accept the argument that the responsibility for learning rests exclusively on teachers. It is a partnership between teachers, parents and the community. If students in private or religious schools behaved like the students in Davidson's class, they would be given one warning and then promptly expelled if they persisted. But public schools by law have no such latitude. They must accept virtually all students who show up at the school and cannot expel them except for the most egregious acts.

It's little wonder that teacher morale is at an all-time low.

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