The police report described another of those mind-numbing incidents that prompt us simply to wonder about the proposition of our public schools.
A 15-year old student is charged by police with hitting his female teacher during class in North Charleston High School after she tried to discipline him for being talkative and disrespectful. The teacher had instructed him to leave her classroom and go the office; instead he mocked her, screwing his fingers into his ears, and then suddenly, he struck her in the face, the report stated. And when she fell to the floor, he followed, hitting her repeatedly, according to police.
Wasn't much of a newspaper story, really, just eight paragraphs. For the public, it's getting easy to be quick and cynical about a chronically troubled school. It's like we've come to comprehend such incidents on some sort of rationalized expectations curve; bad stuff happens in bad public schools, right?
To understand what really happened at North Charleston High on Oct. 22, we would have to engage some pretty heavy social issues. But let's focus on a student and his special needs teacher who give us hope that public schools just might be salvageable, after all.
Lanky Larry Williams, a 15-year-old freshman, was sitting on the back row when he heard his diminutive teacher instruct a disruptive classmate to take his impertinent self to the office. When the assault started, students scattered. But Larry, later admitting he was fearful, went directly to the larger student and took him on. "I felt like Spider-Man," he says. "I was scared, but I had to help her." Larry managed to hold on until help arrived.
The teacher suffered facial bruises and was taken to MUSC. According to the police report, the attacker said he felt "frustrated and pressured." The student was charged with second-degree assault as a juvenile, according to police, and a Charleston County School District spokesman said the student was immediately suspended and recommended to the Office of Student Placement for expulsion.
His teacher urged the school and the city to honor Larry, declaring he had acted "heroically," and on Dec. 12, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and our City Council did just that. Larry stood before the audience and the cameras with his mother and his teacher. He seemed to enjoy the notion he had done something very special.
But his teacher is a hero, too, in this cautionary tale. Mrs. Casey Trauger declared she was as dedicated as ever and urged the public to understand that the good outweighs the bad in public schools. Larry, she said, is "an example of what's right with our schools and our students."
All the "hero" fuss seemed to catch Larry off guard. When Mayor Summey asked what he had to say for himself, Larry smiled broadly and then said about the only thing he might have said: "I love my teacher."
Of course he does, and we should all love the dedicated teachers who enter the uncertain dynamics of classrooms. They are the keys to school performances. But at too many schools, we're sending them into environments defined by mental health challenges, behavioral aberrations, cavernous voids of parenting, and just plain street meanness. And we're learning - or we should be - that there's a fine line between a student's disrespect for a teacher and that student bullying or assaulting a teacher.
Many of those issues converged Oct. 22 in Mrs. Trauger's classroom.
It's been a special Christmas for Larry. The school presented him a new iPad at student assembly and a Park Circle comic book store sent him some nifty "Spider-Man" comic books.
But what about this young teacher and her colleagues throughout the public school system? Perhaps Mrs. Trauger will be reassured by this public "thank you" and some recognition that her job is critically important in our education-dependent community. And maybe we can reassure her too that the public will never accept as "routine" an assault on a teacher in a classroom - at any school, troubled or otherwise.
Two years ago, a national survey of 3,000 teachers concluded that 80 percent had been intimidated, harassed, or assaulted by students. MetLife's 2012 Survey of the American Teacher reported that job satisfaction among teachers is the lowest in two decades - 29 percent said they are likely to leave the profession, 12 per cent higher than the number who said they would leave in 2009. These are trends that simply cannot be ignored by public school policy makers.
But meanwhile, here's a Christmas salute to Larry Williams, the good kid who trumped the bad one, and Mrs. Trauger, his remarkable teacher, who with her rededication to her work defines professional commitment to a critically needed public service.
Ron Brinson, a North Charleston city councilman, is a former associate editor of this newspaper. He can be reached at email@example.com.