5 Things That Make It Harder To Teach In North Carolina

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Being a teacher anywhere is hard work. But being a teacher in a state that doesn't respect or invest in public education can be impossible. The Asheville Citizen-Times asked local teachers about what make their job even harder than it should be. The list they came up with, in no particular order, was,

  1. Not enough textbooks
  2. Not enough teacher assistants 
  3. Class sizes are too large
  4. Not enough professional development
  5. Too many state mandated tests

All but 1 one of these issues can be directly tied to the education cuts in the last couple years from the General Assembly. Textbooks funding is down 78% since 2009, thousands of TA and teacher positions have been eliminated, creating larger class sizes and vital development resources like the Teacher Development Academy have been eliminated. From the Asheville Citizen Time article,

Dawn Rookey shares a single set of English textbooks with the teachers in her department at Owen High School.

The books stay on a cart, and the teachers decide who will use them on a given day.

"What we have to do is we have to say 'Hey are you going to use the book today? If not, I'd like to use it'," Rookey said.

Rookey said it can be frustrating for teachers who are trying to teach new standards.

"Some people will argue we're in a digital age, we don't really need textbooks, and to some extent, I understand that argument," she said. "I don't teach from the book, I use the book as a resource to help me teach what my students need to learn, but a lot of stuff isn't available digitally."

In 2009-10, the state allotted more than $111 million for textbooks — or about $75.88 per student. During 2013-14, that number was $23.1 million — or about $15.34 per student. Subtracting funding for Exceptional Children's textbooks, the per pupil amount is around $14.26.

Funding was increased this year to about $15.96 per student, but the average cost of a hardback textbook is more than $60, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

To fill the gap, teachers have gotten creative, looking for outside resources, making copies of things when they can and using the Internet to post resources for students.

Rookey says she will print copies for those students without Internet access.

"We have found ways to make it work. We do make it work every day," she said.

More teachers are also seeking grants to fill classroom needs.

Alexander was able to get new Latin textbooks for his students with the help of a grant.

When he arrived at Enka High in 2012, Alexander barely had a single classroom set of text books. And students were using the same books Alexander used when he graduated from the school in 2005. With a grant, the school purchased 120 new textbooks.

"It has made my job 10 times easier. Everyone has a book now, and they're brand new books," he said.

But Alexander knows some teachers are still using out-of-date books.

"My colleagues across the hall in modern languages — in Spanish and French and German — their languages are modern. Their languages are constantly evolving, so when they haven't had new textbooks in about 15 to 20 years, there are words that those countries now use that aren't in those books," he said.

Teacher assistants

Black Mountain Primary teacher Terry Quick had a teacher assistant four hours a day last school year. This year, his assistant is dividing her time, so she's in his second-grade classroom just two hours a day.

Quick said people may think teacher assistants only deal with paperwork, but they do much more than that, including working with students.

"I think the frustrating thing for me as a teacher, you want to keep doing all these great things that you do and the really neat programs, but that to me has been a very difficult change," Quick said.

Since the economic downturn, school districts statewide have lost teacher assistant positions.

More than 30,000 positions were funded in state's traditional public schools in 2009, mostly with state dollars, but also with local and federal dollars.

That number was down to about 23,300 in 2014. During the same time frame, enrollment in those schools increased by around 25,000 students.

Paula Dinga, who teaches at Estes Elementary, said those assistants "make an immeasurable difference in the classroom." Like Quick, Dinga is now sharing a four-hour-per-day assistant.

"It (having assistants) provides us enough time to focus on individual children and meet them at their level of need whether that's to remediate or extend," she said.

Dinga said students come to school with a range of needs, from learning disabilities to difficult home situations.

"The depth of the need is becoming greater, and so we're getting spread thinner and thinner to cover all those needs with fewer support personnel and resources to do it," she said.

Kathryn Haughney, teacher with the county's Progressive Education Program, says reductions in staff mean she no longer has dedicated planning time during the school day.

"There's not enough teacher assistants to have planning time. Our planning time has been cut completely," she said.

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