On Monday, I got up, took a microphone, and spoke in front of other educators, the community, and a news crew. I did not prepare a speech. I did not intend to speak at all. In fact, I was nervous. My voice sounded weird coming out of that microphone, so I moved it away from my face. As I spoke about the budget cuts and their very personal impact on my child’s life, my voice began to shake and my other thoughts had vanished. As I looked upon the crowd in front of me and at the people I knew and saw tears in other people’s eyes, I fought back my own tears. Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking about all of the things I wanted to say. The great speech that formed in my head that I wish had materialized in that moment I felt empowered enough to get up and use my voice. That speech would’ve gone something like this (names/organizations omitted for privacy reasons):
My first year of college, I thought I wanted to be a Journalist, so I started off as a Communications Major at N.C. State. This, of course, was before I realized that UNC was a better college. More importantly, it was before I had to take this dreadful Speech class. I’ll never forget the first speech I had to write and present to my huge lecture course of at least 100 students because our professor made us bring a videotape to record it so we could watch it later and analyze our mistakes. After watching that video, I swore I’d never make a speech again. I dropped the class and changed my major to Psychology. This cause is so important to me, I broke my vow to never again get up in front of a group of my peers and speak.
Now, I’m not here to talk about my salary, though I’d love to get paid more for the hours I work. Like many of the teachers out here, I spend many hours beyond the school day writing lesson plans and preparing for meetings. For me, it’s not about my salary. It’s not about my benefits. It’s not about tenure. All of those things are things we should most definitely work on, and I think everyone else has covered that. But, as a Special Education Teacher and as the mother of a child with Autism, I’m more concerned about our children. Think about all of the things we’ve lost because of lack of funding. Just this year, North Carolina’s budget cut 5,184 teaching positions and 3,850 teacher assistant positions. That’s just this year. Fewer teachers and less teacher assistants means bigger class sizes and less help for our students. That’s a tough break for all students. For children with special needs, this is a really big deal, because they need more help than most students.
My son, who has Autism, is now in the 1st grade. Fortunately, his teachers in my county have been wonderful and has had made a tremendous amount of progress since preschool. He went from only using 1-2 words to…well, now we need to figure out how to get him to talk about something other than Ninja Turtles and Cars. He can read on grade level. He can add and subtract. Writing is a point of contention, but if you understood most kids with Autism, you’d have to give him a bit of a break on that one. All of that is thanks to his wonderful preschool and kindergarten teachers and an awesome speech therapist. But, because he has low self-help skills and has social and behavioral challenges, we had to make really hard decisions about his placement. Do you put a child who can academically perform at a higher level than the other kids in a Life Skills classroom in a self-contained classroom because of his adaptive skills? Well, when you have larger class sizes and no teacher assistants, what’s your answer? Who’s going to make sure he can go to the bathroom without accidents? Who’s going to attend to him when he has a meltdown? There’s not enough help in a regular class for children with those kinds of difficulties. Not with class sizes as big as they are and without teacher assistants.
We have come up with so many creative solutions in this county for students with special needs. I know this because I work here and I’m special education teacher. We do the best we can with what we have to work with. For kids like my Squeaker, what’s the answer? What if they can perform somewhere else with assistance? Where’s the money going to come from? The more the state takes away, the less we have for the kids who need it most. I’ve seen a lot of in-between kids who hang out on either end of the middle, and we do the best we can to modify things for them, but it truly breaks my heart to see them either struggle or exist in a place where teachers have to come up with a way to challenge them beyond the group they’re with. Until we can reach the legislators and make them see that the money they take away prevents us from serving the populations that need it the most, this trend will only continue. For the sake our children–for all of children–I would ask our representatives to look at the budget and reconsider the allocation of our resources. Don’t you think they deserve more?