What’s Wrong With This Picture

By Scott Jensen, Language Arts Teacher from Portland, OR

My name is Scott Jensen and I work at an east Portland middle school with 1,000 students. Some of our kids come from war-torn countries. Most of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. All of our students deserve better than we are giving them.

We used to have three counselors who each served approximately 330 students. In addition, we had three administrators who had time to be in the hallways and classrooms, getting to know students. Now, we have two counselors who serve 500 students each and two administrators who have little time to get to know any kids. When I started here, we had a fantastic art elective and every student learned Spanish. Students had access to a full-time choir teacher and a full-time band instructor. Every child attended PE every day. Now, we have no art teacher, no Spanish, no foods class, a part-time band teacher, and if kids want choir or band, they must forego PE.

“All of our students deserve better than we are giving them.”

In 2001 we had multiple sports opportunities to engage kids after school. Our school had several basketball and volleyball teams. We had two football teams, wrestling, and in the spring we had track. Many reluctant learners came to school because of their involvement with after school sports. They would even attend study halls to keep their grades up so that they could continue to play sports. Now, we only have track. There is no study hall for kids to help their grades and stay in sports.

There is not much more that can be taken away from our students’ enrichment experiences. What will happen, I suppose, is that staff will be cut and class sizes will go up. We could lose our band and choir teachers completely. Kids who already get too little exercise and too few enrichment experiences will be in more crowded classes competing for a smaller amount of teacher attention. This is not a recipe for successful students.

Throughout the “golden” years to which I’m referring, the unemployment rate averaged roughly 6.25 percent. The unemployment rate today is below 5 percent. Corporate profits are at all-time highs and yet the revenue generated from their taxes has fallen decade after decade. How is cramming increasingly vulnerable students into underfunded schools and overcrowded classes helping them learn? How is reducing supports and removing extra-curricular options ensuring that all students succeed?

Because of these losses, classroom teachers, once charged primarily with instruction, have become counselors, behavior specialists, nutritionists, and so much more. How can we expect the quality of instruction to be improved, let alone maintained, when teachers’ duties extend far beyond the teaching of students? What’s wrong with this picture? What can you do to help?

By Scott Jensen is a Teacher from the Centennial School District. #OREducatorVoices

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