Danger: Teacher at Work

June 13, 1994

The end of the school year is a customary time to express gratitude to teachers for the important and difficult work they do -- the instruction of the young people who will someday lead our society. Sadly, another word must be added to the job description for many educators: dangerous.

This point was brought home by two incidents that took place on consecutive days last week in Howard and Baltimore counties, in which a teacher from each jurisdiction found his soda laced with lethal chemicals. Four students, ranging in age from 10 to 16 years old, were charged with mixing the deadly cocktails. While neither teacher suffered serious physical harm, the emotional impact on the two instructors, their colleagues and their communities probably won't be so quick to fade.

The incidents struck many people as particularly shocking in that they occurred in supposed suburban havens -- Ellicott City in Howard County and Rodgers Forge in Baltimore County. The faulty presumption is that suburban kids are angels who never cause trouble, unlike their counterparts from areas where metal detectors are as common in schools as chalkboards.

Anyone who thinks along those lines should consider not only the above crimes but also the recent findings in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties. The Carroll school system has just released recommendations for dealing with a decline in student discipline. The study was commissioned by Superintendent R. Edward Shilling in response to teacher complaints about the lack of respect from students as young as elementary-level. Meanwhile, in Anne Arundel, verbal threats and the possession or use of weapons in schools have increased steadily in the past four years, found a task force there.

Certainly the school systems should do all they can to stem these problems. Yet they can do only so much. As the educators themselves often point out, they are being asked to properly feed and instill good manners and values in more and more children -- among handling other basic duties -- because more and more parents assume their busy schedules absolve them of their own responsibility. If a growing number of youngsters are coming to school without having learned elementary social skills at home, asking teachers to perform these and many other tasks is too tall an order.

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