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[Susan notes: I read windbag Nocera's platitudes with an "oh please" shrug. As though any amount of "training" can prepare a teacher for the "poverty, drugs, crime, and hunger" she faces. He didn't mention anger. Robin Lithgow makes an excellent point: Urban schools need teachers and principals who will stay. ]

Published in

To the editor

I read with interest Three Sisters (Not Chekhov's), by Joe Nocera (column, Sept. 28):

There is an important point seldom made in the discussion of the preparation of teachers going into difficult schools. No matter how excellent the preparation, nothing but experience can prepare one for the potential volatility of the classroom.

When everything is calm and suddenly a fight breaks out that involves half the students in the room, fists flying, hair pulled, biting, shouting, cheering along the sideline -- you name it -- what does a teacher do? For that day at least, and for beginning teachers there are many like it, standardized test scores become irrelevant.

In that situation, the teacher in charge must have credible authority. Pedagogical theory is not enough. And in those schools, credibility comes with time.

It is the teachers who stay who have it. These are the teachers who the students trust will not abandon them by succumbing to burnout or moving on when the opportunity arrives. Students have a way of sensing who will stay and who will not.

What urban schools need more than anything are teachers and principals who stay and build community. Whatever it takes, that is the most necessary ingredient for reform in public education.

The writer taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 26 years.

Robin Lithgow

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