Give Teachers a Chance: An Open Letter to My Local, State and Federal government
I would like to begin this post by stating , rather emphatically although you cannot "hear" my emphasis, that I don't normally use my blog as a place to rant. I use my blog to sort out my sometimes crazy existence in a way that will hopefully bring humor and understanding. Sometimes I share my spiritual ramblings and sometimes I just share the latest endeavor of my husband because quite frankly I cannot always go that alone.
This time is different and I will ask that you bear with me. A couple days ago I was added to a group chat regarding the budget vote in our small town. I was late to it and missed the initial invitation to a town meeting regarding the budget but I quickly caught on that our town, like many others in the state , is facing cuts and as usual education is at the forefront. Of course this is not new. I think I listened to my parents discuss the same issues with their friends when my sister and I were in public school. Somehow things seemed to work out. But with our state in the mess it is in and with towns scrambling it appears this time around could be different. So my mind has been swirling about as I read posts from concerned parents, many of whom are friends and as I listen to friends who are teachers and administrators in various schools who are suffering the same fate of budget cuts and I feel the need to turn my pen outward from myself and attempt to shed some light on the less enlightened.
Twenty years ago I became a school nurse. I was in a middle school of about 600 students, give or take. I handed out inhalers and had an epi-pen, may be two for allergies. I gave out many medications for attention deficit disorder and perhaps thousands of band-aids. I got to know students who came to me frequently and even taught baby-sitting classes. When I left after having my first child I missed that job more than any other. I was able to return to the school environment six years ago and the change was astounding.
Students still have diagnoses of attention deficit and asthma but now students have diagnoses like depression and anxiety. And we have cyber bullying and opioid addiction. We have larger classroom sizes and more standardized testing and each year it seems like my own children are learning how to read or learn math in some "new" way. Which means that teachers are learning to teach in a new way. I have volunteered in my children's classrooms over the years and have had a small snapshot of a typical day for a teacher of young children and I will tell you it is not for the faint of heart. I will also tell you I could never do it so I am supremely grateful to those who do. When there is talk of budget cuts as though it is all about numbers we lose sight of the who behind the numbers. And the who is not just the teachers but also our children.
Twenty years ago when I stepped out of the hospital arena for greener pastures, or so I thought, the reason I did was because people in nice suits were making the wrong decisions for the ones wearing the scrubs. Hospitals face the same dilemma of budget cuts and each year nurse to patient ratio seemed to increase. If you can handle six patients, why not eight? If you can handle eight why not ten? I can tell you why not in one sentence; human life is precious and when it is in my hands I prefer the lower ratio.
It is the same in teaching. I have heard over the years the grumbling from residents who don't want their taxes to go up so the town can hire more teachers or not cut sports because they no longer have children in the schools. If a teacher can handle 20 students why not 25? Why not? Because it is not longer 1950. Let's dissect a fictitious classroom, shall we?
Welcome to Mrs..R's first grade classroom. She has 20 students who need to hit several benchmarks in the year for reading and math comprehension. She needs to get to know each one of her students as individuals to understand their learning style and then tailor her teaching so that is she can be sure each student reaches the benchmarks. She also has to know how to use technology like a wiz so she can keep up with her everchanging curriculum and tech savvy students. She has three students with life threatening allergies and needs to monitor handwashing before and after snack time and lunch and perhaps at other times during the day. Two students with asthma, one with a gluten allergy and one with a latex allergy. She has five students with educational plans either for academic needs or medical or emotional needs and specific accommodations for each. Let's toss in four helicoptering, anxious parents who may be coming to her with a previous bad experience that is causing them to feel a certain amount of distrust and thus are in constant contact with Mrs. R. via email and phone calls. We can add one student who, for whatever reason , is a constant disruption to the class. And Mrs. R has to spend a fair amount of time redirecting the student in order to complete a single task. All in a day in the life. For fictitious Mrs. R and all the real teachers I know , none of that matters. Students don't come with labels What matters is each student and helping them to reach their potential.
Well , you say that is what Mrs.R signed up for, that is what teaching is all about. I won't disagree. I work with some pretty amazing teachers and some of my closest friends are teachers and they get it all done but if we continue to cut our educational budgets at some point the bottom will fall out. If budgets continue to decrease and class sizes increase we set our teachers and students up for failure.
What you don't perhaps realize as government officials, is when budgets to education are cut then what is perpetuated is anxiety and fear. Which in turn builds a culture of mistrust. Mistrust breaks down communication and tears apart communities. The fear invoked by the premise of scarcity becomes the central emotion from where parents parent and that trickles down to our children, who are sponges soaking in our fear and anxiety without knowing what it is or how to process it. When we cut budgets to education and take away programs that benefit our children and help our teachers and counselors and social workers, we lose opportunities to help children who are at risk. The child with the learning disability may take longer to recognize. The chance to help the child who feels alone and isolated is missed and by the time that child gets to high school the pain is being numbed by drugs or alcohol and the road out of that is much harder and more devastating.
Perhaps you say, where do you propose we get the funding from then? I would have to say I don't have the answer but politicians telling me that there is no money isn't the correct answer either. I was on a town commission for a number of years. I left for several reasons but one of the biggest was watching adults who didn't want to or know how to compromise. It was distressing to watch people come to the table with a personal or political agenda and not be able or willing to bend. Or to listen to someone not want to do something to make an improvement just because it didn't align with their "party" ideal.
I have an idea. How about we try something innovative and radical? How about we come to the table without a political or personal agenda and put our children first. How about we teach our children one of the greatest lessons , we as adults, should teach. How about we show them what it means to listen and acknowledge and compromise. How about we show them they are worthy of a tax increase or a deficit somewhere else. How about we show them how important education is by not voting away the teachers they need and the sports they enjoy and the clubs that build social skills and community? How about instead of taking from the least among us we work our asses off to give them all they need to succeed?
Because you see, my fellow adults, our children will become adults who will have lives to save, spirits to uplift and a planet to care for. We need our teachers to steer them in the right direction so that they may be able to succeed where we are currently failing.