One of the tasks of this blog site is for the bloggers to write about how policy affects practice. I can not think of a single policy that impacts my job as much as budget cuts. Being in Arizona, budget cuts are a way of life for public schools. If you pay attention to the news, it seems like there is always money for new prisons or other projects. However, there is never enough to fully fund Arizona’s public schools.
Currently, one big push is to put more money into class rooms. This sounds like a noble idea and most people would totally support this by name alone. Who doesn’t want more money to be spent in classrooms?! However, more goes into the running of a school than what is spent inside the classroom.
Schools need nurses to take care of sick students. Schools need office workers to handle the visitors and parents who came to a school. Someone needs to order the materials and resources needed by students. Schools also need employees to keep schools clean, safe and up to building codes. Schools need people who are tech savvy and are able to use the newest educational software. Schools have libraries and someone has to be able to check out books to students. Monitors in the cafeteria, playground, and dismissal areas are crucial to keeping students safe as well. Don’t forget about bus drivers. Someone will have to bring the kids to school and take them home. Current budget cuts are eliminating many of these positions.
Last year, my school had 6 custodial staff members for a school of 900 students. There are nearly 40 classrooms in addition to crucial areas like the cafeteria. Due to the push for cut non-classroom spending, we now only have 4. The school hasn’t shrunk so these 4 are expected to do the job that 6 used to do. My school has a fantastic and hardworking staff but it is nearly impossible for them to accomplish this. To help our staff and to do my part for my students, I spend part of my day cleaning the room. I gather all of the trash into one bag and set it by my door. I disinfect the most heavily used areas in my classroom such as the water fountain, the pencil sharpener, and the breakfast table daily. I use the students to help pick up trash off of the floor. I pass out disinfectant wipes and the students clean their desks twice a week. My colleague has a vacuum and I have borrowed that to sweep my floors as needed. My students play in a sandy playground. Imagine what your floor would look like after 30 kids walked all over it with sand in their shoes! I believe it is important for students to learn how to take care of their space and I am not too good to clean a classroom. I do wonder if the tradeoff is worth it. My students spend about 10-15 minutes a day in cleaning up the room. That’s over an hour every week. I spend an additional 10-15 minutes of my time once the students are gone. That’s an hour that I could be using to reflect on my teaching, preparing lessons, or analyzing the work of my students. The state may be spending more money inside the classroom but we are losing classroom time to accommodate the cuts.
In addition to vital custodial workers, our monitors have been cut by nearly half. Children need to be monitored constantly. Everyone can agree to that. They need supervision in the cafeteria, the playground, the bus stops, and the pick up areas. Teachers depend on monitors to help with this. Without these people, teachers most likely would not get a lunch or bathroom break in an 8 hour day! My school use to schedule a ten minute recess that was monitored by our playground monitors. We can no longer afford this. My school had monitors to help with early morning duties and end of the day duties. This staff is no longer available. I now have bus duty five days a week at the end of the day for 20 minutes a day. Extra duties such as this are fairly standard in schools. No district could afford a support staff that kept teachers from ever having monitor duties. With the budget cuts to support staff, teachers are needed to do more for their students.
If all of the time was added up, I now spend nearly three hours a week performing duties that use to be completed by support staff. That is three hours that could be spent planning effective instruction for your child. That is three hours that I could spend analyzing the performance of your child. That is three hours that could be spent creating a better learning environment for your child. One of the unfair parts of my job is that I will still do all of those things on my time. I have a sneaking suspicion that someone knew teachers like myself would still get the work done.
I do not mean to imply that I am too good to perform any of these duties. I am not. I am not too good to pick up trash off of the floor. I am not too good to help keep my school clean or to help watch students to keep them safe. I just feel that I am paid to do a certain job. Wouldn’t tax payer dollars be better spent if I was able to perform the job they are paying me to do? Would you hire a computer technician to decorate your living room? Would you hire a lawyer to wash your car? Yes, a CEO can work in the mail room and it would probably encourage morale for the employees to see him or her in there. However, if they were in the mail room every day, who would be performing their job?
In closing, I would like to thank all of the staff members who work diligently to keep a school running. Without all of your help, schools would not be safe for children. Thank you. I hope you all understand how important you are to our students’ education.