Point of View

Attacking teachers, robbing students in NC

July 31, 2013 

Last May, while trying to assure my third-graders of their preparedness for their upcoming first experience in end-of-grade testing, one of my students raised his hand and said, “Um, no offense, but it’s not really us who should even be nervous. It’s you because you’re really the one who’s getting graded on how well you taught us.”

My pulse quickened, and yet I was silenced. How could this child so succinctly summarize everything I’ve been told recently by North Carolina politicians and yet also be so wrong?

I wanted to ask this 8-year-old:

How am I solely responsible for equally educating the child who consistently comes to school late and misses at least 20 minutes of academic instruction regularly?

How am I solely the one held accountable for the child who stays up late watching scary movies and then sleeps at school since he was too afraid to do it the night before?

How am I solely responsible for the child whose mom is on drugs, lacks a high school education and can’t even help that kid with her homework?

How am I solely responsible for the child who comes to me on a first-grade reading level and is expected to perform on grade level in nine months?

How am I solely responsible for making children learn who have extreme behavioral problems and would rather throw a chair than sit on it?

How am I solely responsible for the child who consistently misses instructional time because he is with the school counselor because he continually cries and talks about killing himself?

Where is the individual student responsibility? How are the parents being kept accountable? And what about the community?

I am not the only person to have touched this child or his education, yet I am being held responsible as though I am.

I wanted to ask this innocent child all of these questions, and yet I realized he was simply parroting back exactly what lawmakers have been telling me all along.

They say it’s my job to educate these children, and yet in the last seven years I’ve been in education, they have reduced the number of teaching assistants, intervention teachers and head start/early intervention programs; increased class sizes and removed master’s pay all while simultaneously increasing expectations of student outcome and teacher performance.

Do they not see how removing these vital resources affects the teacher’s ability to help the students reach the expectations?

Have they stopped to consider the quality of teachers who will be teaching their children and grandchildren in the N.C. public school system in 10 years if they’re not even compensating them for their master’s work completed after 2014? Or will they be putting their children and grandchildren in private schools?

We mock families on reality TV who have 20 children and ask ourselves, “How could two parents ever do a good job of meeting all those children’s needs?” Some go as far as calling these families guilty of child neglect. And yet I am individually put in a class with 24 children and told to meet the physical, emotional and academic needs of those children because my pay depends on it.

Do lawmakers really think that new rules and evaluation standards tied to our pay motivate us? If they do, then they don’t know their workforce.

No, we don’t pour out our hearts every day because of new teacher accountability standards. We do it for the hugs, the smiles, the light in their eyes and the “Oh, I get it.”

We don’t need the end-of-grade testing results or performance standards to keep us accountable. I feel the immense accountability every day when those 24 children are looking at me. They are my greatest motivator – because they are the future.

Lawmakers have started a rumble in us, the simple, common educator. A rumble that is growing and bubbling over and spreading. A rumble that says that what they’re decreeing in North Carolina politics is unjust.

How can we empower the student if we’re not empowering the teacher?

Joanna Kaswarra of Raleigh is a Wake County school teacher.

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