At the retirement party I sat with a group of teachers who were survivors after the budget cuts. One teacher said that over 30 teachers had lost their jobs in her district. “So what happens to the classes that these people taught?” I asked.
“Well,” she replied, “my class load has gone up from 350 to 410.” She is an elementary music teacher who travels among several buildings.
“How in the world do you get to know 410 kids?” I asked. “Or even 350?”
“Some of them I knew last year, “ she said. “You actually don’t get to know them very well. I’ll be lucky if I can get all their names.”
“Also, some special ed classes have been combined,” another teacher said.
As a group they were committed to their students and their schools. And as a group they were concerned about what they felt was a national trend towards teacher bashing. And they were all aware of a local district that fired all its teachers. “They all have to reapply for their jobs, “ one said. “Can you imagine?”
“It makes me feel bad,” another said. “I mean, we work hard at my school. I love the kids. I’m there early and I stay late. I advise the junior class and I help with the yearbook. And yet they blame us for everything.”
“Yeah, but what about the parents?” one added.
These teachers generally don’t read national education journals or blogs. They know who Arne Duncan is, but they don’t actually think he has anything to do with what they do on a daily basis. They belong to the union, but it doesn’t have a large presence in their schools. Their focus is kids and whether they’ll have enough books, computers, violins, soccer balls, or desks next fall for all of them.
The whole conversation reminded me that when we talk about school reform, we need to keep a sense of perspective. Teachers in hundreds of schools across the country are doing the job they were hired to do – and then some.