California Fair Share

A grassroots campaign to make sure everyone gets a fair shot, pays their fair share and plays by the same rules

In a Teacher’s Shoes: Observations From the Classroom

Editor’s Note: The following blog post is first in what will be an occasional series, in which California Fair Share communications Intern Jay Rivera shares an inside look at the world of public schools in California, from a substitute teacher’s perspective. 

Photo of CA Fair Share blogger Jay RiveraLost in the debate and political bantering over Congress’ proposed $6.9 billion cuts to education are a beyond-the-numbers account of how they will affect the nation’s students.

I understood cerebrally that a reduction in funds means more students per class, fewer preschool slots and after-school programs for struggling students. But it wasn’t until I began working as a substitute teacher in one of the Central Valley’s most troubled cities that I truly understood the impact each dollar had in the life of a student.

Stockton, Calif., twice named by Forbes Magazine as America’s Most Miserable City, has struggled for years with a large high school dropout rate, violent- and property-crime rates well above the national average, and an unemployment rate as high as 20 percent. While things have improved slightly since the housing crisis of 2007 and impending recession, Stockton’s poorer communities have yet to benefit from an economic turnaround.

As a substitute teacher, I see this manifest in subtle ways. Recently, I tried to motivate a first-grade student who couldn’t focus on his work. No amount of explaining or giving consequences helped this student. Finally, I asked him why he was having such a hard day. “My mom got off late at the restaurant and then our car broke down, so we had to walk home.” Knowing the restaurant and its location from the neighborhood surrounding the school, I estimate that the student and his siblings walked home for at least two hours.

This is hardly an isolated case. Each new substitute teaching assignment brings new faces of poverty and neglect. A fifth-grader repeatedly falls asleep in class; her peers shrug and say, “She does that all the time.” A first grader who ravenously stuffs Mandarin orange slices into her mouth during class time because she hasn’t had breakfast. Students who can’t keep up with their classmates, but don’t qualify for special resources, so they fall further behind.

If it were up to me, lawmakers would be required to spend a day as a substitute teacher in an inner-city or rural classroom where the majority of the students qualify for free- and reduced lunch programs. I am confident that our elected officials would pass an entirely different budget, one that doesn’t take resources from our nation’s most vulnerable.

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This entry was posted on November 25, 2013 by in Opinion and tagged , , , .
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