Normally it doesn’t bother me when my students ask a question to which I do not know the answer. It’s not unusual to hear me say, “I don’t know. Let’s look it up!” It’s an instant teachable moment; just add Google.
But last week a student asked me a question that neither I nor Google could answer. The question: Why is there going to be another vote for new schools in our district?
The school where I teach is packed to the gills. In fact, just about every school in my district is full or over capacity. This is not too surprising, considering that the city’s population has grown 73% over the past decade. In order to build more schools, voters need to pass a referendum that will increase property taxes. The city has voted against the referendum twice already, and chance number three is coming up for a vote in May. As both a teacher and a parent, I am praying it passes.
As a teacher, I find this very frustrating. Education is a NEED; it’s not some fancy indulgence. When the city needs a new road or additional police officers or fire fighters, there is no public vote — it just happens. But when schools need additional resources, everyone has to agree.
As a parent, I am concerned that my son might be in a very large class when he starts kindergarten. Will he need to be bussed to a far-away school, where there’s room? Will the district need to redraw school boundaries to finagle kids around?
Some people argue that the school board is asking for too much, that the schools are going overboard. I can assure you, I don’t have a jewel-encrusted throne at my desk, and there is no concierge that delivers lobster tails to the staff for lunch. In fact, teachers at my school struggle to get computer access for their classes, students have been bussed to other buildings for gym class because there simply isn’t enough space, and one hallway is actually used to hold classes. That’s right, we ran out of actual classrooms.
We teachers are not asking for fancy new stuff for ourselves — we want it for our students. How can we teach our students 21st-century skills when it’s difficult to get them regular access to a computer? How can teachers meet the needs of every student in a class that’s pushing 30 kids? (Now imagine that class being held in a hallway. And it includes five kids with IEPs.) Our students deserve better.
This is also frustrating for me as a special education teacher. My goal is to have my students in general education classes as much as possible. But it’s difficult for inclusion to be successful when class sizes are so large. The social studies class my students attend has 29 students in it . . . plus the teacher, a student teacher, my paraeducator, and myself. It’s more than a little crowded. Some of my students are uncomfortable with how close the desks are to each other. As soon as it’s work time, those students ask to leave the room to work elsewhere.
I would gladly invite anyone who plans to vote “no” on this referendum to spend a day at my school. Stand in the hallway between classes. Sit in the lunchroom . . . without ear plugs. It’s loud and it’s full.
Recently the local news aired a clip of students passing between classes at our local high school. My husband asked, “Is that really what it’s like!?” Yes, it is. It is wall-to-wall people. It is hard to walk through. It causes anxiety for even me; I can only imagine what it does to my students with autism.
It truly hurts my heart to hear people list the reasons they don’t want more room for our students. Many have stated that if “we” were doing our jobs right, we wouldn’t need additional resources. Indeed, I think we all do an amazing job with what we have. But how much more could we do if we had the space we need?
If we take a big handful of flower seeds and put them in a little pot, not all of the seeds will take root and grow. The same thing is true in school. Let’s work together to make the pot bigger, and see what blooms.