Last year the board of supervisors in the county where I teach voted against a real estate increase (the wealthiest county in the United States). That meant that the school board had to cut $38 million dollars from it’s already reduced budget. The cuts were so severe that every teacher received a ‘Reduction in Force’ notice in the event positions would be cut. How’s that for a summer send-off? The cuts were far-reaching and worrisome. It wasn’t until this fall that I realized those cuts were personal.
Last year I had 119 7th graders. I had 5 classes of English and 1 class of Communications (an elective class). My largest class had 21 students and most of my classes had less than 18. This year, because of the loss of 1 teacher at our grade level, I teach 147. I teach 3 Honors classes with 25-28 students and 3 co-taught classes with 19-25 students. We aren’t even halfway through the first quarter and I can feel the difference. I cannot conference with my students within a week’s time. Grading is an all weekend event. We cannot move from the front of the class to the back or vice versa easily because there are so many desks, chairs, and bodies to contend with. I will try my best but I will not be as good a teacher this year as I was last year. Class size matters and anyone who tells you differently has never spent time in a classroom. Readers need time to develop literary habits and time to talk to others about what moves them and draws them in. Writers need a community that builds trust so they are willing to share parts of themselves in their stories, so they can write about what really matters. Both of those are really hard to create with large groups of adolescents. I don’t know if I can continue to teach in a way that I know is not what my students deserve. I can do it for this year but I’m not sure about more than that.
We also lost House Deans – administrators that would follow, in tandem with the guidance counselors, 6th graders up to 7th and then to 8th grade. They knew the kids, the families, the struggles and the triumphs of each and every child in their grade. They knew what made those kids tick and could hit the ground running at the start of each new year, letting the new crop of teachers know what each child needed to learn best. Because extremely wealthy people did not want to increase their tax burden by a few pennies, we now have 1 dean for nearly 1100 students. That should work just fine, don’t you think?
Last spring my co-teacher and I applied for a grant. We received $5000 for technology for our co-taught students. The money was to be given to our school and we were instructed to collaborate with our building principal to decide on the best use of the funds. We agreed on the purchase of 25 Chromebooks that would allow us to write every day, unconcerned about laptop or computer lab access. Additionally, we would be able to assist students with revision from home. We felt sure this would engage our students more in the writing process and allow events like NANOWRIMO and our Poetry Slam to be even more exciting. When the letter came from the state office about the grant, our bookkeeper wasn’t sure about all the ins and outs of a grant so we sent it on to our administration office to facilitate the purchases. We had to spend the money by 9/30. On September 18, we received an e-mail from one of the district bookkeepers that we would be getting 18 Chromebooks and what would we like to do with the remaining $231.00?
We were stunned. No one had asked us how many Chromebooks we needed (25) or what kind we wanted (Consumer Reports recommended Acer 720’s). I e-mailed back and asked what happened to the 25 we had sufficient funds for in August? The reply was that it had to undergo the bid process per school board policy and this was as many as could be purchased. I asked what we should tell the 7 kids in our Block 6 class who would not have access? She offered to send me the relevant School Board Policy section. I declined. We went from discouraged to angry to distraught to enraged. “This wasn’t even their grant!” we railed! “Should we even get them when we’re short so many?” we wondered. The kicker is that we had 25 Chromebooks all lined up, tax exempt, free shipping, for $4975. No one had bothered to ask us, though.
So, we can talk about numbers and fiscal responsibility but I want everyone to know this fight just got very, very personal. This is my life’s work we’re talking about. Our kids deserve better. I deserve better. The teachers I work with and admire deserve better. These are not beans we are counting here, they are lives and successes and baby steps and perseverance and risks. It’s turning failures into lessons and defeat into triumphs and reticence into confidence. We are talking about our children here, people!!! They deserve to learn in an environment that allows them to be who they are and to grow into the very best version of who that turns out to be. They deserve the support of people who know and love them and have their backs, even when they mess up, which they will. They each deserve the Chromebook their teachers worked so hard to get for them. They each deserve whatever we can do and give and provide so they can get the best education we can devise for them. We are talking about our children.
Let’s all make this personal because really, it already is.
On Friday, our wonderful principal came to the door of our room and held up 7 fingers. He’d worked tirelessly to find a way to get the missing Chromebooks and our director of special education had agreed to fund them. We promptly burst into tears but they were happy, grateful, relieved tears this time.
Post Post Script:
I’m still mad!