At the school where I teach, we are proud to have raised our School Quality Rating from a Level 2 to a Level 1 last year. While we would like to be celebrating and capitalizing on these gains, we are instead focused on almost $600,000 in cuts at our school alone. Fewer adults mean large class sizes—today about 30 students per classroom—that substantially diminishes our ability to monitor how students are doing and meet their unique learning needs.
The truth is that it’s far more than ballooning class sizes. Budget cuts are preventing us from offering the same academic and behavior incentives for students we’ve had in years past. We’ve lost parent nights, community engagement efforts and assemblies. While teachers often spend out-of-pocket to make ends meet, we cannot make up our school’s $600,000 deficit.
These cuts also mean we’ve had to sacrifice hands-on learning experiences that we know are crucial to student learning. For example, my second-grade students are learning about how living and nonliving things interact in habitats to sustain life. It would be great to give students an opportunity to build a 3D-habitat structure using art supplies to showcase what they’ve learned—it would also be expensive. As a teacher, I’m faced with the dilemma of shelling out almost $150 I know will not be reimbursed, or substituting a drawing project that will not engage my students as well.
In years past, we have been able to offer resources to parents to support students’ learning at home—blocks, disks, geometric shapes and tools, technological resources and other options. This year, we are unable to update classroom resources and cannot afford to send home the resources parents are requesting. [pullquote]It does not bode well when schools cannot afford the literal building blocks of student learning.[/pullquote]
Investing in Teachers
Chicago Public Schools' budget struggles also mean that the promised annual raises and promotions for additional coursework and trainings are not being honored. Last year, in addition to teaching full time, I attended classes two nights a week and completed roughly 10 hours of schoolwork weekly to attain a master’s in education.
I am a better teacher because of strategies I learned in my coursework, such as infusing literacy into math and science instruction. I decided to pursue my master’s despite the $11,000 out-of-pocket because it was an important investment not only in my students’ learning, but also in my career. The promised $4,000 pay raise would help offset my costs in the years to come. But when pay increases are not honored and incentives to grow professionally go unsupported, we harm teachers’ professional development, and ultimately student learning.
The charged rhetoric between the district, state and union also impacts school morale. When everyone demands you do more with less, it’s harder to do our jobs and to keep students motivated. Pervasive negativity makes even great teachers question continuing in this profession and district.
The conversation on all sides needs to be more respectful and less accusatory. I honestly believe stakeholders want to solve these issues, but their approaches are often not constructive. The antagonistic rhetoric is overshadowing a chance to collaborate on a solution.
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