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Teachers smeachers

September 8, 2009

I just read a headline in the New York Times about funding cuts for school districts in which teachers now must take on larger class sizes and unfamiliar subjects.  As a teacher who has dealt with both of these scenarios, I can assure you that we are damning our future with our funding priorities.

A non-teacher might wonder what the difference is between teaching 20 students or 25 students, or between teaching 3rd grade or 5th grade.  What’s a few more students other than a few more desks and photocopies?  And what’s a grade or two higher other than the same writing and math exercises at a more advanced level?

I’ll tell you what it is.  It’s less time per student to answer questions, to provide assistance, and to develop a personal relationship.  It’s less time to develop intriguing lesson plans and more time managing tasks and grading.  It’s more busy work, and it’s more impersonal.  It’s more kids goofing off and getting detentions, and more kids dropping out of school altogether.  It’s a sense of being lost and alone, both for students and teachers. 

It’s a capital offense, or at least it should be.

I am teaching an overload this semester, and although my work load as a college instructor pales in comparison to that of a public school teacher, I can already feel the crunch.  I am spending every minute at work keeping up with lesson plans and grading and I have no spare time to tutor students who need extra help or to sit and chat with them after class.  Just this afternoon, a student of mine stopped by my office to say hi and to tell me about her weekend, and the whole time I was listening to her I was also watching the clock out of the corner of my eye – tic, toc, tic, toc, fewer and fewer seconds to finish my sociology lecture for later that evening.  I resent the fact that I don’t have time for a simple 5-minute conversation with a student.  I remember how important it was for me to develop relationships with my instructors when I was a student and how much more it motivated me to do well in class; to think that I don’t have time to do this as a teacher makes me angry.  The kinds of students I am teaching on the reservation need all of the motivation they can get to overcome the obstacles they face to education.

The fact that I earn next to nothing to do my job is much less frustrating to me than the fact that I barely have time to do my job, which is not only to pass on information, but to pass it on in a way that sinks in and inspires.  I can’t do that when I’m stretched thinly. 

If we’re not careful, the combination of low pay and high stress will soon cause those remaining teachers who haven’t been laid off to quit, and then we’ll really be up a creek.  Because the consequences of inadequate faculty extend far beyond the boundaries of school buildings…


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  1. Kyle permalink

    Here’s the link to that article.I went out of my way to search for this article. I couldn’t believe this quotation: “The norm for Los Angeles high schools this fall is 42.5 students per teacher.” That’s absolutely ridiculous.good luck.

  2. Excellent entry, Cori. I think you should send this off to the New York Times, the CDT, your “local” Billings,Sheridan, and Bozeman papers–in short, wherever you can think of. Maybe you could send it to the AssociatedPress as it would then be picked up and published in newspapers nationwide ( directly on the heels of Obama’s education speech yesterday, this might just get some press! Thanks for spendingthe time to write this; it’s a very valuable article………….Mae

  3. As a teacher who has dealt with both of these scenarios, I can assure you that we are damning our future with our funding priorities.Loved your entire entry, and especially agree with the above sentiment.  Did you know that I, as a non-degreed English teacher in an understaffed (yet voucher supported) private school,  taught the disecting of the frog and the fetal pig, based on a crash course the night before and what I remembered from Bio 201.  Why?  because no one else volunteered.  I feel badly that 15 years later this is still a problem nationwide.

  4. Thanks to those who read and responded to my posting. Kyle, thanks for the article – I can’t believe L.A. school teachers have to deal with more than 40 students in a classroom. That is absolutely insane.

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