On Meeting Tom Wolf, Surviving Corbett’s Cuts, and Voting

I met Tom Wolf Wednesday, Oct. 29. He was running late, so I couldn’t stay for the entire campaign trail event, but I made sure to shake hands with him, look him in the eye, and tell him that I am a teacher and that we need him. He responded by saying, “We need you, too.” I continued by telling him we need him to keep his promises.

I am not naïve. I know that politicians are politicians. I know that Mr. Wolf has made promises and plans to cut some taxes and raise others. I know that he needs to do all that he can to remedy the path of destruction left by Tom Corbett. I also know that he has no idea what lies ahead until he takes office and that some surprises may come up to prevent him from doing all that he has said he will do. He’s human, and he will inherit a state that’s been left in shambles.

Education Protest March 4 2010-27 by Patrick GiblinBut, I also have firsthand knowledge of what Tom Corbett has done to my state and our public education system. As proponents and opponents throw their truths about education cuts back and forth, I only can speak about what I know to be true. I was in a classroom for eleven years. None of those years was perfect, as far as statewide high-stakes assessments, new regulations, new evaluations, new budget changes, and new technology initiatives took hold. But, the four years during which Corbett held the reins were the worst.

In those four years, we lost positions to attrition. Thank goodness nobody was furloughed (at least to the best of my knowledge), but the lost positions helped to account for the increased class sizes and the loss of itinerants, so that teachers now travel between buildings at a dizzying rate. We also lost principal positions to attrition. Some buildings do not have a principal on site during the day. Schools are left without leaders in an age of school violence, bullying, and increased time needed for evaluations.

In those four years, teachers took a pay freeze. Teachers retiring at the end of the year lost money, teachers who spent time earning extra credits for advancement on the pay scale lost money, and teachers who were counting on raises to help cover the money spent out of pocket on classroom supplies lost money. I was one of the teachers who spent more of my own money during those four years. Tissues, pencils, erasers, novels, hand sanitizer, paper, glue sticks, markers, and other supplies we used on a daily basis came out of my checking account. As my classroom budget was cut, and I worked under a pay freeze, I spent more and more of my own money to keep my classroom going the way that I wanted it to, in order to have an engaging learning environment.

In those four years, classrooms lost assistants, libraries lost assistants, and buildings lost assistants. Even more damaging was the fact that students lost services they desperately needed as wrap-arounds and personal aides were slashed. Students who relied on those paraprofessionals and support staff suddenly were left to navigate through the school year on their own. Discipline issues became a problem and students spent more time with guidance counselors and principals after they lost their support in the classrooms.

In those four years, my class sizes grew from an average of 22 to an average of 30. My largest class was 38 students, and I did not have enough desks in my room to accommodate all of them the first week of school. When I managed to borrow desks from fellow teachers, we worked in close quarters until two desks broke and I was told there were no replacements. I again relied on my colleagues for help and found enough desks to squeak by until the end of the school year. I worked with students and changed my lessons and daily activities to accommodate the large numbers, but those kids definitely would have been better off in smaller classes.

In those four years, we lost our after-school tutoring and mentoring programs. Students lost a program that included activities, tutoring, and snacks. We also lost a program dedicated solely to tutoring. When everyone was so concerned about test scores and student achievement, the two programs that were in place to help students academically were lost.

VOTE by Theresa ThompsonI don’t need studies or campaign ads telling me what a disaster Tom Corbett has been for my profession or my state. I have seen it and lived it. Tuesday, teachers MUST vote their job, not their party. Teachers MUST vote, period. I can’t imagine what will be left of our state or our schools if we have to endure another four years of Tom Corbett.

For more, follow the #Vote4ED posts on Twitter and visit http://educationvotes.nea.org.

Images via Flickr by Patrick Giblin and Teresa Thompson

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