Letter to My State Legislator

Dear Ms. McDaniel,

I am a concerned middle school teacher who doesn’t normally get involved in arguments and politics, but with the way things are happening with funding from the state legislature of late, I felt it was my duty as a teacher and an American citizen to seek you out.

I teach eighth grade language arts at Hale Jr. High in Tulsa, a middle school where 95% of students receive free and reduced lunch.  Our school is disorganized and understaffed, and despite teachers’ best efforts to keep students motivated and on-task, some days it looks as though the students have positively taken over.  The staff has been in “war mode” all year, creatively trying to come up with solutions for our problems, but the fact is that there are too many students with emotional disturbances in our halls and not enough teachers to help and inspire them.

Today I subbed for an absent teacher.  Her fifth hour class has 34 students because we had to cut a social studies teacher this year.  These students have discipline problems.  They have never been to a school where excellence is considered normal.  I spent the better part of the hour trying to keep them quiet.  Thirty four seventh graders to one… it is an impossible situation.  And next year, because of funding being shifted over to charter schools and taken away from public education, more teachers will be cut.  Our state test scores are low and getting lower… and why?  Because these children grow up in poverty.  They get more naughty right before breaks, because they are afraid that during their time off they will not get enough food to eat without their free lunches.  Please consider the poor, usually minority children.  Just because they cannot afford to go to private or charter schools does not mean that they do not deserve our attention.  For God’s sake, they are children.  Children with very special needs.

I understand that money is tight these days all across the country.  But consider the resources we are throwing away every time we cut money from public education!  I may have confused you by writing about their bad behavior just now.  In fact, so many of my kids are brilliant and wonderful and kind… even the emotionally turbulent and continuously absent ones.  If you spent a day in my classroom (which of course you are welcome to do) you would see how inquisitive and creative they all are.  But poverty causes distrust and anger and anxiety.  They tell me about their friends and siblings dying and their parents getting out of prison in the same minute they tell me what a metaphor is.  They give me an example of hyperbole and then burst into tears.  It’s hard to keep them focused when there’s a war going on around them.  Because of what little our country has provided them, the only way they know how to respond is with violence.

We need more help, not less, for children growing up in poverty.  It makes me furious, frustrated, and defeated to think that somewhere just a short distance from where we go to school, someone in a business suit is making decisions that, effectively, say that my students’ lives are cheap and their education of little importance.  I became a teacher last year through Teach For America because I believe that all children, no matter where they are born or how much money their parents make, deserve an equal education.   The classroom ratio needs to be 15:1, not 34:1 if we are to expect anything from these talented, inspirational, broken, unstable young potential achievers.

Please consider how your decisions at the Capitol effect the lives the children you represent. 

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~ by Rachael on April 6, 2012.

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