Teachers Under Attack
Some deserve failing grades, others suffer as scapegoats. All are exposed to severe occupational hazards.
“DICK and Jane can’t read, write or do arithmetic because their teachers can’t.” That’s the sweeping charge raised this year by The Wall Street Journal. In support it cited examples. In New Orleans picketing teachers carried a sign that read, “We are striking for descent wages.” In Virginia a printed study guide for third graders asks, “What did the sculpture told the archologists?” A teacher in Alabama wrote a parent, “Scott want pass in his assignment at all, he had a poem to learn and he fell to do it.” Another source tells of a girl coming home in tears. In a spelling test she wrote “blossom,” but her teacher corrected it to read “bolosom.”
The incompetence, although not involving all the teachers, is nation wide. The result in many states is pressure to force new teachers to submit to various tests of competency. Some teacher-union officials protest that teachers are being made scapegoats for the nationwide decline of test scores. There is validity to this protest. There are several factors behind the failure of many of the public schools, and there are many teachers who are competent professionals. However, there are many who are not; tests to keep them out are legitimate.
However, these tests are not much, even in the basic skills. “Mere child’s play,” is how the New York Post rated them. “The written English test for would-be city teachers is so easy to pass that high school students did almost as well as adults applying for the jobs, according to a research study.”
Many industrial workers are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals that bring death 20 or 30 years later. Many teachers are exposed to dangers that bring immediate injury and sometimes death. The National Institute of Education estimates that, every month, 5,200 junior and senior high-school teachers are physically attacked and 6,000 are robbed by force. Every month, some 282,000 of their students are assaulted; monthly, 112,000 are robbed. Many of the violent acts are by nonstudent intruders.
U.S. News & World Report, May 21, 1979, highlighted some of the violence, as follows:
“While her second-grade class watched, a California teacher was forced by an intruder to undress at gunpoint, then was sexually assaulted. When he left, the assailant took the woman’s clothes and purse. The children covered her with their sweaters and jackets.
“A New Orleans teacher watched while two boys threw a smaller child off a second-floor balcony. She was afraid to interfere because she feared the boys might then attack her.
“High-school girls in Los Angeles, angry over low grades, tossed lighted matches at their teacher, setting her hair on fire. The teacher subsequently suffered an emotional collapse.
“In Alexandria, Va., student vandals slashed tires on a police car in a high-school parking lot, painted drug graffiti on library walls, ripped the front gates from the school, smashed windows, ruined a carpet with glue, detonated an explosive in a smoking area, snipped gaping holes in the school’s chain-link fence, poured motor oil on a hallway and cut down the school flagpole with a pipe cutter and rammed the pole through a window in the principal’s office. The school subsequently was closed after a devastating fire, believed to have been arson.
“In Austin, Tex., while 30 of his classmates watched, the 13-year-old son of former White House Press Secretary George Christian shot and killed his English teacher with a semiautomatic rifle. The teacher had given the boy a failing grade.”
For years teachers have been discouraged from reporting violence. It makes the school look bad, which, in turn, makes the school administrators look bad. A member of the New Jersey task force for reducing such crimes said: “Administrators do intimidate their staffs into forgetting violent incidents.” When students know that violence will bring police action, the violence decreases dramatically.
Exodus from the Battle Zone
Many teachers suffer from combat fatigue, with anxieties and neuroses similar to those that soldiers from war zones suffer. Some have started keeping tear-gas canisters, police whistles and even firearms in their desks. But most teachers tend to be passive, idealistic people, unsuited and unwilling to engage in such combat. So they opt to leave the field altogether. Resignations and early retirements in recent years have cut deeply into the numbers of experienced, dedicated teachers. It is the children’s loss, the parents’ loss, the schools’ loss, society’s loss. The blame for the loss is also theirs. All of them contribute to it.