THE LOS ANGELES TEACHERS’ STRIKE : One Teacher Draws the Line, the Other Crosses It

Times Staff Writer

Even though striking teacher Andi Leibsohn knew her best friend and mentor at Le Conte Junior High School had decided to stay in her classroom through the strike, it still hurt Wednesday morning when she saw her friend drive past the picket lines outside the school and walk into the building.

“Sellout!” one of the handful of picket-carrying strikers yelled as Adelina Alegria drove past them. Leibsohn, 26, could only turn away. “I couldn’t deal with it,” she said.

Leibsohn and Alegria share a strong dedication to the newly arrived immigrant children who form a large segment of their school’s enrollment. But they find themselves on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to a teachers’ strike. Although a strike can be trying, the two women say they remain close friends. Others working through the strike who have friends, parents and even spouses on the picket lines, many of them at other schools, say the same. The strike will not affect their relationships either.


“I think Andi and I understand why each of us is doing what we are doing,” said Alegria, 34. “And I know she feels really bad for me. I feel the same for her.”

Instead of her usual morning jogs through the surrounding Hollywood streets with Alegria, Leibsohn has spent her mornings this week standing outside her school with several dozen of her colleagues.

“I hate it,” said Leibsohn, an expressive and vivacious woman who wears her hair in a ponytail and bangs. “I don’t want to be out here. I’m very angry and depressed. I’m constantly snapping at everybody. I want to be in there with my kids. . . . I feel like I’m deserting them . . . .”

She was so torn by her loyalties to her students and to the issues at stake that even as late as last Friday, Leibsohn had still not decided whether or not to strike. In the end, she said, “when I studied the history and the facts . . . I decided something was very wrong. . . . I believe the kids deserve better and this is the only way they (district administrators) will hear us.”

While Leibsohn walked the picket line Wednesday, Alegria was one of about 17 teachers to cross it. She spent most of the morning in the school’s auditorium, struggling to organize classes for the students, most of them Spanish-, Korean- and Armenian-speaking, who had come to school. The children had to be counted, divided and assigned classes for the day.

Sometimes, she found herself gently coaxing the restless youngsters to remain in their seats. Frequently, she yelled across the sea of squirming youngsters for silence, an order that would then be interpreted by teachers’ assistants into other languages.


A forceful, admittedly opinionated, even “pushy,” woman, Alegria said she had little trouble deciding to work through the strike even though her father, a strong union supporter, tried to talk her out of it.

Born in Mexico, Alegria said she is proud of the progress she has made in seven years of teaching immigrant children. At her own initiative, she has attended dozens of bilingual education conferences, workshops and courses. For the last three years, she has served as a district-appointed mentor to younger teachers such as Leibsohn.

“I know my priorities,” Alegria said, explaining that teaching is at the top of the list. “I’m not saying that teachers on the picket line don’t care about teaching, because many of them do. But I feel very strongly that I belong with my ESL (English as a second language) kids.”

In addition, Alegria said, she does not agree with the teachers union’s emphasis on salaries. More importantly, she said, the union has not been as supportive of bilingual education as she believes that it should be.

While she said she had felt “very uncomfortable” crossing the picket line, she said that is not reason enough to join the strikers.

While Alegria, Leibsohn and others believe that strong friendships will survive the strike, they are fearful that it may divide teachers who are not as close.


“I know there are people out there who are never going to forgive me, never,” Alegria said.

While Leibsohn said she respects her friend’s reasons for not joining the strike, she does not feel the same about others who have remained at their posts.

“Lina and I have talked. I know why she is inside and she knows why I am outside. I think we understand each other,” Leibsohn said. As for the others, she said is not as forgiving. “Maybe because I haven’t talked to them, but I don’t understand why some of those other teachers are in there,” Leibsohn said.