Looking back, it’s amusing now to think most educators, parents and students thought that a snow day in February was a wild ride! No one ever imagined that we would switch to online school in March because of a global pandemic.
For me, the 2019-20 school year was also memorable because it was my first year teaching. My first assignment was teaching fourth grade at an elementary school in Provo. Most teachers will tell you their first year teaching was memorable for many reasons. For me, it was because of the professional relationships I created with my students and their wonderful parents. Through these relationships, I witnessed how strong and consistent communication with parents helps students succeed.
One fourth-grader started the school year hiding under their desk any time they became upset. Consistent emails and phone calls home helped the student receive parental and professional support in regulating their emotions. This made all the difference for the student socially and academically. They were able to make friends and improved from low math scores to some of the highest in the class.
Another memorable experience was working with a student who grew from reading at a first- to third-grade reading level in just one school year! Two years of growth in one year is incredible. Though the student may still be labeled “below grade level” in reading, I learned that celebrating the incredible progress students make every day is important in building relationships where this progress can be made.
Of course, the first year teaching is also a trial by fire. There were many days I left school feeling frustrated, tired and overwhelmed. I felt inadequate in my teaching and behavior management abilities. Luckily, I had support from administration and other teachers who helped me improve my confidence and teaching abilities. I credit their support with stopping me from Googling “careers outside education with a degree in Elementary Education.” I’ve been told the first few years of teaching are the hardest, but the more experience you have, the more effective and confident in your teaching you become. Essentially, the longer you teach, the better everything gets. Well, the better most things get.
Despite victories earned in early March of this year to secure greater funding for the 2020-21 school year, the Utah State Legislature is now considering cutting the education budget because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 virus. After a monumental effort by educators to continue student education and student services through a global pandemic, it is unfortunate to see the Utah Legislature considering cuts of 2%, 5% or 10% of the Utah Education 2020-21 budget. Students and teachers will be hurt by any level of budget cuts.
As we anticipate a new school year, schools and teachers will be adding additional responsibilities to their already overflowing plates to keep themselves and their students healthy and safe. Telling teachers, yet again, to do more work with less money is no way to show appreciation.
Looking at the breakdown, it’s clear proposed cuts disproportionately impact students who need the most support. State Funding for Special Education Intensive Services will receive a 100% cut ($2,807,900). The Effective Teaching in High Poverty Schools Incentive, which rewards teachers for their work in high poverty schools, will be eliminated ($250,000). Class Size Reduction funding, which should help students receive the attention they need in smaller classes, will be eliminated (almost $150 million).
To personalize this, my five students who receive special education services, my three students who are classified as English Language Learners, and my two students with social-emotional regulation challenges will be hurt the most by these funding cuts. As a first-year teacher, a larger class size with less support from special education would lead to greater feelings of stress, inadequacy and being overwhelmed at the expectation of meeting the varied needs of these students along with the rest of the class. The first year of teaching is hard enough already; new teachers cannot afford less support, which will ultimately be a consequence of budget cuts.
Our current situation is exactly what the Rainy Day Fund of Utah is for. Contact your legislators NOW to tell them.
Charlotte Gatrell is a teacher in the Provo City School District. She graduated from BYU with degrees in elementary education, women’s studies, and teaching English to speakers of other languages.