My Turn: No alternative but to keep on fighting
After spending a few days at the State Capitol and a few days here in town marching for the future of Arizona education, I feel like I should weigh in:
I've been on "walk out" for three days; Thursday, Friday, and today (Monday). This is not easy. I love my students. I see them around town and am hit with a wave of emotion. I want to stop and tell them that I'm doing this for them and I miss them more than anything. I want to tell them that I love them so much I am willing to forfeit my paycheck, risk my reputation in my community, and continue the "walk out."
My school district has decided to reopen. The first comment made on their social media by a community member was asking why COCSD was reopening, if we "caved in". Well yes. We did cave in. We caved into community pressure and the fear of losing your support. You see, the community pays over $4,000 per pupil from overrides and bonds (compared to around $3,800 by the state) and without that support, we can't run our schools. If we "walk out" we risk losing money for our schools. If we don't "walk out" we risk losing money for our schools. Right now it's one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" type situations.
Since I'm damned either way, I decided to keep fighting. I feel so passionately that my students deserve more. When I was in middle school (before the budget cuts) I had more than they do now. If I needed a pencil, I asked the teacher and they handed me one. If they ask for a pencil, I tell them to ask a friend or use a tiny nub of a colored pencil that was donated to my class. My math worksheets were in an actual workbook. I never lost a page. Now, students are given photocopied pages and packets that go missing, resulting in bad grades or lunch detention. My social studies textbooks were just a few years out of date...the students I taught at my old middle school were using the exact same books I did over 10 years ago, bound with duct tape. The school I currently teach at doesn't have books at all.
A substitute teacher will walk into my room and greet my class. She will give them the lessons I created in between jobs (I am currently working 5), and make sure they get where they need to go. In the meantime, I'll be at the State Capitol proving to them how much I love them. I'll be standing in the sun, begging the legislatures to hear our stories.
I want our legislatures to hear how many weapons violations I've had this year in my homeroom alone with no resource officer.
I want them to hear how students who were abandoned by their parents, saw their siblings taken to jail, or are abused at home ask for help, and are told to wait a few weeks to see our school counselor since we can't afford to hire one full time.
I want them to hear how students who need to go to the nurse are asked if it's an emergency because we don't have a nurse at school today.
I want them to hear how it takes an hour to do a ten-minute activity because we have to pass the last five glue sticks around the room so everyone can share before we move on.
I want them to hear how I use what little money I earn to buy food for my students, so when their stomach starts rumbling in class, or they get a headache from not eating enough, they can eat.
I want them to hear how some of my students knock over desks and throw things because they are not emotionally prepared to be in a full classroom full of other kids, and I don't have the support staff I need to handle the situation.
I want them to hear how our ELL teacher had only 10 minutes for a lunch break this year because she was servicing so many English Learners without help.
I want them to hear how many fist fights I've broken up because our students are SO ANGRY and don't get the attention they need, at home or at school.
I want them to hear what is really happening inside Arizona classrooms. It's not greedy teachers, rubbing their hands together, wondering how we can use these kids to make a buck. It's teachers with their heads on their desks at 5 or 6 p.m. crying because they just want to help all their kids and they can't...they can't do it alone.
I want them to hear this isn't about my raise.
This is about my students and the future of Arizona.
--Kelsey Cochrane is a teacher at Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District