08/14/13 — Teachers talk about changes

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Teachers talk about changes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 14, 2013 1:46 PM

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From left, Scott Littleton, Danette Narron, Lashaundon Perkins and Kathy Drew talk about some of the sweeping changes expected in education this year as a result of the recent state budget.

Danette Narron never aspired to be a teacher, even when it might have made her actual job easier.

The instructional assistant at Edgewood Community Developmental School remembers one year when the class where she was assigned had six students in wheelchairs.

"Just me and one teacher," she said. "She and I had to work out a system if there's a fire."

For the past 18 years, she has chosen to work at the specialized school that serves students with a variety of physical and developmental needs. She doesn't have a degree but is confident in her skills.

"I took the Work Keys and am considered highly qualified, but when they start looking at getting rid of instructional assistants, I always wonder, 'What's the criteria (they'll use)?'" she said of the anticipated cuts that could be made on the heels of the recently passed state budget.

"It's a hot topic," said Lashaundon Perkins, a program specialist at Edgewood and president of the Wayne County NCAE (North Carolina Association of Educators), which recently announced plans to take legal action against the General Assembly to contest the decision to do away with teacher tenure.

"A lot of different things are going on," she said. "A lot of teachers are really being affected, causing them to look at other careers."

At Edgewood, every teacher has two assistants.

"They outnumber the teachers because our school is like no other school in the county," Mrs. Narron said.

"They're very instrumental in the classroom," Mrs. Perkins said. "Not only do they help with instruction, but they help with behavior. They're very, very needed in the classroom."

In addition to being vital members of the team, sometimes instructional assistants can serve as guides to teachers just entering the profession.

"When you have brand new teachers coming in, they have learned the book stuff, but when they come into that classroom and it's just them, they don't know what to do," she said. "But when you have an instructional assistant, they can kind of guide them."

And there are other concerns, too, Mrs. Perkins said.

"It bothers me that they're taking so many assistants out, because of safety. What if there's a lockdown or fire? You have got 26 other kids. When you have got that other set of eyes (it helps)."

Kathy Drew, a fourth-grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School, doesn't have an assistant.

"It's just me and however many babies they send me," she said, explaining that on average, she will have 24 or 25 students in her class. "But we have been told that those numbers will go up."

Mrs. Drew, entering her 20th year as an educator, all at Spring Creek, said she learned of an instructional assistant who based her decision to retire on the latest development, "in hopes that it might allow somebody else to keep their job."

"She chose to retire just like a week ago, I believe," she said. "The sad thing is the principal said that might not make a difference. (Legislators) don't understand what this is doing to the children."

The latest budget also makes sweeping changes to other areas teachers have come to rely on -- including tenure and additional pay for obtaining advanced degrees. Now, educators find themselves without a raise for the past six years and a reduction in professional development opportunities.

"It's discouraging," Mrs. Drew said.

"With us, we have had a lot that came on as instructional assistants and they went on and furthered their education and became teachers," Mrs. Narron said. "(Now) they're either coming and staying as instructional assistants or they're going back to school for something totally separate."

Mrs. Perkins said a lot of educators are worried. Those expecting to get compensated for acquiring a master's degree might decide to pursue jobs elsewhere, for example.

"People are leaving. They're leaving Goldsboro. They're leaving North Carolina because you can go to neighboring states or sometimes even neighboring counties," said Scott Littleton, lead teacher in the high school program at Edgewood, with more than 14 years experience.

"When (Jim) Hunt was the governor he was about education. I felt like they cared about teachers. He was a teacher's governor."

"I have come across people from other states," Mrs. Drew said. "They tell us the only reason they come here is to get experience. They have told me, 'I will put up with North Carolina for three years because at the end of those three years I can go to New York (or another state).'"

All of the above teachers are tenured, so they will feel the impact of that status being dissolved.

"You don't ever know when you're going to be on the chopping block," Littleton said. "What's the criteria for this month or three months? It looks like we're always going to be on guard or waiting for the other shoe to fall."

Mrs. Perkins' concern is that the profession might lose some of its best advocates for students.

"My fear is that the teachers who are compassionate about teaching these children leave," she said. "The good ones leave and the ones who need a job, stay. That's my fear."

"You have got to have that compassion," Mrs. Drew said. "You have got to be willing to do whatever it takes to help reach those children.

"I get the ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) kids, the kids who don't even speak the language -- and I don't speak Spanish -- and it takes extra work."

Mrs. Narron relies on her faith as the job situation unfolds, but admits it would be sad to leave.

"I have such a passion for the children, especially the children at Edgewood," she said. "That's where I'm going to stay unless they kick me out or whatever."

Until formal announcements are made, the educators said they remain passionate about being educators and resolute about the need to band together.

"People are scared. Students are scared. Parents are scared," said Mrs. Drew. "The number of teachers that we're losing to retirement, they're going to other places, other careers."

"Even though I'm not in the classroom now, I still want to be the voice that I can for the teachers as well as the parents and students," Mrs. Perkins said. "I have had more parents contact me after this budget passed than ever before.

"This has been the year that they have cut the most important things that they have cut, which shows that they do not care about public education."