I wasn't at yesterday's Moral Monday rally. But that doesn't mean I'm not outraged. Unfortunately, much of what I'm worked up about won't fit on a protest sign. Starting this week, I'm going to attempt a Monday post in solidarity with those protesting at the NC legislature -- I realize it's not the same as getting arrested for the cause, but at least it's something.
Okay, that's a wild exaggeration. But you get the idea.
The sad thing is that I honestly believe most Republicans and Democrats -- and the Independents and unaffiliated -- want the same big-picture things when it comes to public education. Safe schools. Quality instruction. Graduates with marketable skills.
Of course, the devil is in the details.
When I hear my state legislature talk about placing armed security guards in schools at the same time they want to cut teacher assistant positions from the budget and increase class sizes, I know they've completely missed the point. You simply can't cut teacher and teacher assistant positions and claim to want safe schools.
For a moment, let's forget about the academic, social or emotional reasons why you might want your young child to be in a elementary classroom with, say, 20 classmates, a licensed teacher and a licensed teacher assistant -- forget about the opportunities for enrichment or additional support. And forget about the professional reasons why you might want a teacher to have working conditions that don't include managing, say, 28 six-year-olds without any additional staff.
For a moment, let's just think about this in terms of security. Having more teachers in the classroom helps keep children safe.
In catastrophic situations, teacher assistants make it possible to protect more children. Think back to some of the horrific school tragedies of the past year in places like Newtown, Connecticut, or Moore, Oklahoma, where teachers, counselors and administrators risked their own lives to protect the children in their schools.
One of the recurring thoughts for me as I read all the stories of heroism shining out on those unspeakably dark days is, "How do you decide?" If you're the teacher in those classrooms, how do you decide which kids you can hold onto in the storm or which ones you can hide in the closet while the school is in lockdown.
Extreme? Sure, and thankfully so. But it's still our reality.
Even under more ordinary circumstances -- ones where students are misbehaving, bullying or (in today's softer parenting language) simply "making bad choices" -- teacher assistants make a difference for security. It can be challenging for teachers to ensure that all students feel safe when it's a large class and there's no teacher assistant.
Another professional adult who also knows the students well -- not just a parent volunteer (as great as they can be) -- makes it possible for one teacher to address the threat while the other adult continues to lead the class. Anytime you can have another set of eyes, ears and hands in the classroom, every child is safer.
So here's my proposal for the Republican-led legislature and Governor's office as they hash out this proposed budget... Remember all that talk about wanting to ensure that our schools are safe places to learn? How about you connect that rhetoric with your speeches about job creation and start by finding funds to hire even more teacher assistants to help staff North Carolina's classrooms.