The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What would Erin Gruwell do?

Even working in a relatively supportive charter school, I am finding the problem with budget cuts to be absolutely detrimental to my teaching.... Let me give you a fantastic example of the problems facing education today, that those who are outside of the system probably don't really see.

In order to get money, we need to use funds from the government Race to the Top program. In order to get that, we need to promote and prove student improvement and achievement. In order to do that, our school is using, among other things, a group of fantastic programs from a company called Renaissance Learning. One of those is a reading program in which they take a diagnostic reading test to determine their reading level, and then they are expected to read books at their own level (genius idea) for which they take tests through a program called Accelerated Reader. It is a fantastic program that actually is well-tested and has very few kinks or issues. Overall, it really did help my students make progress last year, and it helped track that progress very well. Now, we will be using this data to implement a literacy program and get some Race to the Top funds for showing student achievement.

The problem... in order for my students to test, they need laptops. We don't have a lot of computers at our school. We have 4 laptop carts, but there are about 25 teachers, so that is not really the greatest ratio and leads to battles for the carts. We really, really, really need several more carts or something... but alas, with the budget cuts, it is a miracle that I still have a job and that I haven't taken a pay cut at all, so there is certainly not money for more carts. I planned way ahead and scheduled one of our school's 4 laptop carts to use for the 2 block period days this week. I booked it back in May. However, because of budget cuts, our IT department is understaffed and overworked (aren't we all), and the laptop cart I scheduled is not ready for use due to some severe student abuses and just wear and tear on cheap computers that now needed a lot of maintenance over the summer. (What can I say... they are high school kids. We try to be careful, but it happens). I think I will be able to share the cart that my neighboring teacher is using, as she said she is willing to split it half the period tomorrow. The other problem... it only has 25 laptops, and of those only about 17 are really working. Now, if my class size was still 25 people or less, like it was my first year, then this would be something that I could probably make do with... but due to budget cuts, our school is slightly overcrowded this year and my class sizes this year are somewhere around 28-33. This means that for half the period, I will have the computers, and only half of my class will be able to use them at a time, so I need to somehow get them to finish the 90 minutes worth of computer stuff I have to do in about 25, so that they can trade off. I also need to come up with a lesson plan for the rest of the time, and something engaging and quiet that the rest of the students can be doing while the ones using computers take the tests.

Ironically... one of the things I need them to do is take the Accelerated Reader quiz on their summer reading, which was The Freedom Writers Diary. If you are familiar with the book, the teacher, Erin Gruwell, isn't even given books for her students and has to use her own money to go buy them the books she wants them to read.

In teaching this book, I bought the book The Freedom Writers Diary Teachers Guide, which has all of Erin Gruwell's great lesson plans and a bunch of reproducible pages for engaging lessons and vocabulary practice to go along with the book, so I found some activities in it and was going to copy them... but our copy machine is broken. I am sure that they will get someone out to fix it. In the mean time, I could use the back-up, the duplo machine, but last year, due to budget cuts... we couldn't renew the maintenance contract on it. Our director dipped into his discretionary budget and bought the ink, but we all knew that we are basically screwed if it breaks. Well, it basically isn't working. Yesterday it ate half my paper. It would copy a page, eat a page, copy a page, eat a page. Paper is a valuable limited resource in my world, so I cannot afford to waste it like that by trying it again, and I asked around and other teachers said it was doing it today too.

So what would Erin Gruwell do?  Would she pull a rusty, unrelated lesson out of a file cabinet, just because she has nothing else? Or would she head to Office Depot where they offer a 10% discount on photocopies for teachers, and use her credit card to pay for the copies, because her account is overdrawn....

I think she'd go to Office Depot, so off I go, for the second night in a row... because last night, I was there buying pens for the students who couldn't afford to get them this year. Not even kidding....

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