Take steps to protect teaching assistants

Jun 07, 2013

Now that all three versions of the state budget have been released (Gov. Pat McCrory’s, House and Senate), some Haywood County teachers may spend a portion of their summer break wondering if they will have assistants in the classroom next year.

Some state lawmakers want to eliminate the teacher assistant funding for second- and third-grade classes. The state Senate budget, for instance, eliminates about 4,600 teaching assistants and also cuts the state allotment for classroom teachers.

Financial strain is getting heavier on schools every year, but the Haywood County school system doesn’t have to fold under the pressure from the state just yet. There are bills pending that will give local school districts more flexibility when it comes to spending choices. With a little time and effort, Haywood schools might be able to counter the funding cuts without sacrificing its teachers. Other options at least warrant consideration.

Potentially eliminating teacher assistants raises the question of who, or what, will be most affected by it. In this case, it would be the students who suffer.

Clyde Elementary teachers have said the one-on-one interaction between an assistant and the students is essential to whether a student may fully grasp a subject such as reading.

In fact, a study released by The Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2011 contends that students who do not read proficiently by third-grade are four times more likely to leave school without a high school diploma compared to proficient readers. If a third-grade reading level correlates to high school success, then surely eliminating the one-on-one help provided by teacher assistants could mean less literary students and more high school dropouts.

Teachers, principals and assistant teachers all seem to agree that an assistant teacher is invaluable in the classroom. Fewer assistant teachers could prompt schools to recruit volunteers for extra help from untrained parents or community members, but there’s no guarantee each class could be covered and it is unlikely a single volunteer could be found to provide the steady, year-around presence to a paid assistant.

Another bill that’s working its way through the General Assembly eliminates the structured classroom size in grades one through three, which is currently capped at 24. It is hard to imagine how much learning could happen with a single adult in charge of more than two dozen 7- and 8-year-olds who still need help with basic personal hygiene steps as they their little minds are taught about the wide world that surrounds them.

Even though the state may think teaching assistants are dispensible, it doesn’t mean local districts shouldn’t strive to still retain them.

We encourage the Haywood County Schools administration to look into every avenue of cutting before they look at cutting teacher assistants, particularly for students at such a critical age.

And for parents, it’s never too late to step up the homework help at home. If the assistants are erased from the chalkboards, it becomes the duty of the parents to secure their child’s learning. If one-on-one help is needed, elementary school teachers can’t always provide it, especially if the classroom size increases and the help decreases.

It will be up to the parents to kneel down and help their children grasp the material the way teacher assistant does. It could one day mean the difference between a student passing a final EOG or vying for GED.