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Blame the Teacher in Altercations

I know that discipline in the classroom is an anachronism, but events at Santa Monica High School in California made me realize just how bad the situation really is ("Santa Monica coach may become a hero for exasperated teachers," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 7).  When a wrestling coach/science teacher reprimanded a student for walking in and out of the classroom and threatened to call security, the student shoved the teacher, who then wrestled the student to the ground.

What happened next is incredible. The school district's superintendent immediately suspended the teacher and apologized to the parents, calling the entire experience "utterly alarming." Yes, it is alarming, but not for the reason the superintendent believes. It is another example of how teachers are put on the defensive by administrators who reflexively take the side of students in altercations with teachers.

When parents subsequently mounted a vigorous protest in support of the teacher, the superintendent apologized for pre-judging him.  Meanwhile, the Santa Monica police arrested two students in connection with the classroom scuffle. I doubt the apology would have been issued if parents had not been as vociferous in their protest.

I'd like to know what the teachers' union is doing, if anything, about this travesty.  We hear so much about the union's alleged power in protecting incompetent teachers.  But what about its responsibility in protecting teachers who are doing their best to make classrooms safe for learning? If the facts made public so far are true and no additional evidence becomes available, then this coach is a hero, and the superintendent is a coward.

It's easy to second guess what the teacher did.  Perhaps he should have immediately called campus security when the issue arose, instead of confronting the student.  But we were not there.  When I began teaching, teachers were allowed to act in loco parentis.  This meant they were permitted to exercise their professional judgment.  However, court rulings over the decades have tied the hands of teachers, until today they are forced to walk on eggshells in matters of discipline.

It's a bad situation, and I expect it to get worse. I don't know how teachers are able to continue to teach under such conditions.  I know I couldn't.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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