By NaShonda Cooke
Last week you heard about my hardships born out of my low teacher pay as I struggle to raise my own daughters. I am one of thousands in the same situation, and if that’s not enough reason to care about the lack of funding allocated by our lawmakers, consider how it’s impacting your children.
Lack of funds and materials is just one of the struggles I see daily in my profession. I am also witnessing the disappearance of one of the most vital resources as we lose more and more of every year. That is human resources! North Carolina has lost over 8,000 teacher assistants in the last ten years. Last year almost 3,000 teachers left the state. Some school districts from as far as Texas have set up camp right here in North Carolina and recruited educators. Talk about a Trojan Horse. Some of our best colleagues have left for opportunities of better pay, professional growth, and an incomparable level of support.
According to the Washington Post, teacher retention has decreased every year since 1996. Valerie Strauss wrote an article called North Carolina Teacher Exodus Rises — despite efforts to halt attrition in October 2015.The article states “But it’s not just low pay that is driving some teachers from the state. It’s respect.” I can tell you first hand how low it feels to not be able to pay bills and turn around and be told “You don’t know what you’re doing. Your students aren’t learning. Now, do more with less.”
My good friend Karole left for Maryland three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Another coworker accepted a position in Houston and started making double his NC salary! Last year a coworker moved overseas with his new wife and loves his decision. In the past two years I’ve counted on both hands the number of coworkers who have left for other occupations in human relations fields. My oldest daughter has lost 3 of her 6 elementary school teachers. They come in as bright and energetic educators and leave overwhelmed, underappreciated, and underpaid. I’m sad she doesn’t get to go back year after year and find those teachers to say thank you. This is the greatest reward a teacher can experience.
Not only do educators leave but preparing new educators is also at an all time low. State universities and colleges have seen a drastic decrease in their education preparation programs. Tuition and the elimination of world -renowned programs like the Teaching Fellows Program has all but seen to the end of the option of choosing education as a major with support that was unmatched. Why would you throw out the baby with the bathwater? pre-service teachers weren’t even being valued. why not continue to ensure the ability to support even more great educators to come into the classrooms.
Last week I attended a meeting with district educators and state representatives. We were asked what are our top three concerns for the current state of public education in North Carolina. An overwhelming majority of participants stated a lack of educators to collaborate with. You could walk into just about any classroom in the state and you’d see the student population includes students with special needs, such as those who speak another language and those with learning disabilities. All of them are being short changed because teacher retention is nonexistent. There are very few ESL and EC teachers in those classrooms for extended periods of time. Those students are left to fend for themselves. And the teacher is lost as well, trying to do the best he or she can. Remember when I said do more with less?
Here is a sampling of the statements I heard at that meeting of colleagues:
“We need more ESL teachers to help us translate for our students and their families from other countries.”
“When I’m working with an individual student struggling, who is there to keep the rest of my students engaged?”
“My school has the highest percent of special needs students and we share a special needs teacher with 8 other classes.”
“Our mental health specialist was already with us only two days a week now she’s not even on campus anymore.”
Do you see the dilemma? I just really don’t know what else to say. In my classroom I depend on my students to work independently as I assess their peers or handle a behavior situation. I can’t dive deep because it’s about 25 of them and one of me. And each of them need me to pay attention and give them my energy.
Paperwork and analyzing data is done at home because my school day doesn’t have enough hours in it to handle it on site. And there’s no one in the room to help me do it while on campus. Clerical responsibilities are not why we need more capable educators in our classrooms. I can make copies and go to recess with my students. Assessments aren’t even the number one reason, although it’s close. We need more educators to ensure that classroom is a safe and productive environment. The best possible education for your child depends on that.
Your child and mine deserve that. Their needs and talents can go unseen if another set of eyes is not available. One person is not guaranteed to catch an incident of bullying, or a lack of self confidence to perform a task, or even catch a student doing the right thing when it’s not the easiest thing to do. Why? Because all of these examples are the transformative experiences that can make or break a child’s learning experience.
What can be done about this? I for one know it takes a village to raise a child. Consider joining the PTA at your child’s school, volunteer when you can, have a direct conversation with your local and state elected officials about school budgets, have a conversation with your children about what makes school work for them. And most importantly vote! Research and know who has your child’s back locally not just nationally. There are some very clear cut differences. Who supports vouchers? Who is pushing the opening of more charter schools which takes money away just like taxing the middle class?
You never know who that one adult is that will make a difference in a child’s life. Shouldn’t we give all our children the best possible chance of succeeding? Why are we so willing to let good educators just walk away or never even enter the classroom? I’m not willing. Are you? I know you are not either. Together we can change the direction of what is happening in public education in our state and the country.
Next week, what has been added in place of what’s been taken away. Stay tuned, it gets worse.