Editorial: Teach a class in their shoes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Classes began Monday in North Carolina’s traditional public schools with energy and enthusiasm for reaching high goals in the year ahead.

Some smiles masked uncertainty, though. About 8,500 teacher assistants are not sure they’ll have jobs once the General Assembly approves its final budget, now several weeks overdue. That makes the teachers they work with feel unsettled. And the people responsible for lining up bus drivers may be experiencing heartburn; teachers’ assistants often drive school buses.

School systems across the state have dealt with this limbo-like state by beginning to cut back on their use of teacher assistants. Pitt County cut 25 positions, Buncombe County cut assistants’ hours from eight hours a day to seven, and Guilford County eliminated three workdays for the assistants.

State budget writers have said they want to redirect money spent on teacher assistants toward more teaching positions. It will be difficult to make these staff changes after the school year has started, but if school administrators have experience at anything, it’s dealing with change. The best ones are remarkably adaptive — more than they should have to be, but so it goes.

The state budget’s unfinished status also leaves raises for teachers and other state employees up in the air. The legislature has boosted starting pay for teachers in recent years, but more experienced educators have seen little change in their pay and have good reason to feel under-appreciated.

State lawmakers should spend a day as a teacher or teacher assistant to fully appreciate the jobs they do. Let’s require state senators and reps to shed the suit jackets, roll up their sleeves and keep students engaged, on schedule and learning for a full school day. In the elementary grades, the lawmakers would probably wish they had two or three assistants.

Educators, students and parents must forge ahead despite budget uncertainty. We cannot afford for the political tug-of-war in Raleigh to taint the pure necessity of the job at hand — helping all children learn, grow and reach their full potential.