Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who Wants to be a Teaching Assistant?

Yesterday every teacher assistant in my county got a pink slip.  They are all being fired as of June 30.

We knew our school district's budget for 2012-2013 wasn't looking good.  We knew there would be cuts.  What we did not know (until a couple of weeks ago) was that EVERY teacher assistant would be cut.  I'm not sure of the exact number, but I'm guessing around 350.

Everyone wants to say public education is failing.  But let's be realistic.  Who is failing?  I blame society.  No one wants THEIR taxes raised, even for public schools.  Parents don't hold their children accountable.  Stay at home moms don't come to the school to volunteer.  Teachers are not paid as much as other professionals with equivalent degrees.  Many of the best and brightest teachers burn out quickly because of the workload, demands, public criticism, and low pay.  And now, one of the most important positions in the school system is being eliminated.  Conspiracy theorists could say that maybe some people WANT the public schools to fail . . .

Anyhow, I could get on my soapbox about all of that, but the point of this entry is to list everything I can think of that a teacher assistant does.  I don't think people realize the important role they have in a school.  Believe me, I'm sure there is more that I will forget to add to the list, so I apologize in advance for my lax memory.  Readers, if there is something I forget that teacher assistants do, please add it in the comments section. 

  1. One year I had a boy in a wheelchair.  My TA had to take him to the bathroom every day, at least 2 times a day, for 180 days and help him (unzip his pants, hold his urinal, empty his urinal, zip his pants, clean his urinal--you get the idea)
  2. Refurbishing science kits before they are sent to the next school (they have to be rotated because of budgeting issues)
  3. Teaching small groups of readers (because we teach everyone at their own level)
  4. Conferencing with individual students during writing workshop
  5. Having their own spelling groups (yes, we even individualize spelling now)
  6. Lunchroom duty so teachers can have duty-free lunch (Did I mention that this is state law?  Teachers are supposed to be provided with duty free lunch, but the state does not provide the personnel/money to do that.  So guess what?  It falls on the teacher assistant.)
  7. Working with struggling students during independent work time in math
  8. Bus duty
  9. Car rider line duty
  10. Book room organization
  11. Hall duty
  12. Covering a classroom of children when the regular education classroom teacher has to be in an IEP meeting (this is required by federal law)
  13. Substituting in emergency situations (a teacher's child becomes ill and she has to leave, a teacher finds out a family member has died, a teacher becomes sick at school, etc.)
  14. Receipting money for field trips so that the teacher can teach and not have to disrupt sacred instructional time for this
  15. Making copies
  16. Helping children who are sick
  17. Assisting children who have bathroom accidents in their pants
  18. Being an adult who cares (when many children have no one else who does)
  19. Proctoring for state mandated tests (required by the state and federal government)
  20. Grading papers
  21. Sorting all student work and putting it in that child's folder to be sent home once weekly along with other school information
  22. Keeping the word study cabinet supplied with word lists for all spelling levels (because remember we now individualize instruction even in spelling)
  23. Keeping the reading assessment cabinet supplied with forms for all of the different developmental reading levels
  24. Checking the teacher's mailbox during the day
  25. Watching the class while the teacher goes to the bathroom (Yes, we are human too)
  26. Pulling individual students for one-on-one tutoring
  27. Checking for head lice (yes, this is for real--our Board of Education requires us to check all children for head lice when returing from school after a 3-day or longer break)
  28. One year I had a boy with autism in my regular ed classroom.  The assistant sat with him during subject area instruction so that he would stay on task and not be disruptive to the other students.
  29. Taking emotionally fragile/troubled children out of the room for a walk so they can have a "decompression" time
  30. Hanging up student work so that students can learn in a cheerful, child-centered environment
  31. Binding children's writing into individual books so that we can celebrate having published authors in the classroom
  32. Attending PTA meetings
  33. Attending weekly staff meetings
  34. Going on field trips
  35. Helping set up the classroom at the beginning of the year
  36. Helping to put everything away at the end of the year
  37. Being an extra set of eyes to keep all students safe
  38. Attending open house, back to school night, curriculum night, reading night, math night, grade level musical performances, spring festival, bingo night, . . .
  39. Teaching new teachers "the ropes"
  40. Calling a parent because Johnny forgot his lunch money (or a multitude of other reasons) and the teacher is teaching
  41. Taking the children to the library once a week so the teacher can have a 20 minute break from the children
  42. Walking around and monitoring student work during independent work time
  43. Giving encouragement
  44. Listening
  45. Being a nurse, mom, disciplinarian, educator, and psychologist all in one day
  46. Jump rope swinger
  47. Kickball pitcher
  48. Playground referee
  49. Serving on school committees
  50. Running the laminating machine
Good grief, I'm exhausted just by listing all of that!  I hope you readers get my point.  Teacher assistants are not only necessary but they are invaluable.  It takes a special person to be a TA, and it's time that people in a position of power appreciate that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

America the Beautiful?

Something stinks in this country, and it is our politicians and the games they play.

I grew up in a medium-sized, blue collar city in the Midwest.  My family was middle-class, with my dad working two jobs and my mom staying at home with us kids (3 of us) until we were older.  Then she too got a job.  I grew up with a strong work ethic, and as I got older I began to believe in equal opportunities for all and in helping out those less fortunate.  I also believed in the power of one person to make a difference.  All of those are reasons I became a teacher.

Unfortunately, I think I've become jaded.  You see, I've always believed that politicians ran for office to represent their constituents.  But more and more often, I see that they are only out for themselves and their own personal glory.  Money and party ties have become more meaningful to our representatives than the wishes of the citizens.  When did this happen?

It happens at all levels--federal, state, and local.  Most recently in my own life I have become involved in a fight to fully fund my county's school district.  At first, I took the fight to the state level.  My state representatives kept telling me and others that the state is broke.  So, I took the fight to the county level.  I found out that my county made $54 million in a lump sum for the lease of some land to Carolina Healthcare System.  In addition to that one time lump payment, the county will also receive money (I think it is 6 million dollars but I cannot be certain) from CHS every year for the next 50 years.  (How in the world a healthcare system has 54 million dollars to spend at one time for one small piece of land is a mystery to me?  But that is a topic someone else is going to have to investigate because I just don't have the energy.)  Okay, I thought.  The county has the money to fully fund the school system's budget.  They only need about 10 million more dollars to balance it.  Silly me!  Of COURSE it is more complicated than that, well at least according to the county commissioners.  I found out that the Board of Education needs to request that money from the county first.

Well, I'll start pressuring the BOE members to ask the county for the money.  Maybe they think county citizens won't support them if they ask for that much, or maybe they are unaware of all that money that is just sitting in the bank.  Interestingly enough, I soon found out that some Board of Education members aren't willing to ask for that much money from the county.  I ask you--WHY THE HELL NOT?  Something just isn't adding up . . .

I just don't know what to do anymore.  The politicians at all levels are pointing fingers at each other.  In the meantime, our school system still has a 9.6 million dollar shortfall for the next school year.  At the time of this writing, ALL teacher assistants have been told they will not have jobs next year, as well as 50 interim teaching positions.  (An interesting side note here is that one of those interim positions is held by the Teacher of the Year at one of our elementary schools.  Seriously--the county is willing to dump a TEACHER OF THE YEAR?)  What do all of these politicians think is going to happen to the economy with all of these newly unemployed people?  Not to mention, the children and their education will suffer without proper staffing at schools.

I guess the people in charge just don't care about the average citizen anymore.  But rest assured-I (and many other people I know) will continue to fight for what we know is right until our throats are raw and our voices are hoarse and our hands are tired from writing letters.  We will not give up.  This is our country, and the children are the future.