Sad to be in the Pink

Pink can be an ugly color. If it’s a pink slip.

I had to explain to a friend of mine from another country what the term “pink slip” meant. I had to explain that even though they weren’t actually pink these days, it meant that a perfectly hard-working, dedicated, competent person was losing his or her job because the employer didn’t have enough money to pay them.

I had to explain that hundreds of thousands of educators, teachers and support staff, were facing pink slips. And these non-pink, pink slips mean that students will find themselves in unmanageable class sizes sitting in rooms of 40 or 45 or 50 children.
Pink slip

I’m a teacher who knows something about what happens to children in unreasonably high class sizes. I had 39 5th graders one year when I taught in Utah.

I know what it’s like to have children excited to show you their work or ask a question or want to tell you something important that’s happening in their lives that makes them nervous or happy or sad or angry.

And I know what it’s like to have to say, “We’ll have to talk about that later…” because there’s a line of children who want your attention, and they are all tugging at your sleeve at the same time until one arm is longer than the other.

I’ve had 25 kids in a class. I’ve had 39 kids in a class. Anyone who stands too close to me while explaining to me that class size doesn’t matter is seriously risking life and limb.

The year I had 39 kids was the year I cried from exhaustion several afternoons a week because when I graded papers, I wanted to give personal, meaningful feedback and encouragement, and I didn’t give worksheets – I was a mean teacher. I gave essays and made them write short answers of complete sentences and they showed their work.

During class, I liked to make sure I made some personal contact with every child each day – a mini-conversation; a word of encouragement; a question where I could pause with respect and listen to the answer. With 25 kids, that was hard to do. With 39 kids, it was impossible.

I’ve spent much of my career on a class size crusade. The global mess caused by Wall Street demands brave solutions that protect the future of our country – because preparing a child to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world is the future of our country.

The fiscal crunch in states is having a devastating impact on our boys and girls, and most politicians are putting their fists in their pockets and looking at their shoes and claiming that, awe shucks, the dog ate their homework; that there’s nothing to be done; that they looked, and doggone it, the money just isn’t there to ensure schools have the staff that students need to fulfill the promise of a public school.

Maybe next year. Or the next.

For some of these guys, the plan is to give MORE tax breaks to the “job creators” (their term of “billionaires”), and this time they will create the jobs they forgot to create the last time we freed them from the bother of paying their taxes. I suppose to be fair, they can probably make a case that they did create jobs – just not here in the United States.

Here, the layoffs in American workplaces went up as American jobs went overseas and the profits and income of the wealthiest amongst us went up. It is a sad, sad joke to call them “job creators”.

President Obama has a different plan. He has bravely proposed that children not be asked to pay for the mess caused by bankers and investment managers who built a house of cards for their short-term gain.

The plan slates $30 billion to save the jobs of teachers, knowing that those teachers are essential to a child’s opportunity to learn. Another $30 billion would put others to work modernizing and repairing crumbling school buildings so that kids have the proper learning environment.

The plan also proposes that those who have reaped the benefits of past tax breaks and loopholes, the wealthiest of the wealthy, finally be asked to pay their fair share of the costs of helping put America back to work. Some billionaires, who understand the investment in our educational infrastructure as good business, applaud the president’s brave plan and are willing to step up and do the right thing.

Of course, the only thing that makes this a brave act is the predictable attacks by opponents who seem to hate anything with the word “public” in front of it and who angrily shout that asking billionaires to pay a few percent more in taxes (after receiving the heftiest bulk of the tax breaks in the past decade) is tantamount to the Bolshevik Revolution.

Common sense should not necessarily be a brave act, but this is. It’s one we should thank the President for proposing. It’s one that we should demand Congress support. It’s one that would make an immediate difference in the learning lives of so many, many children.

Pink should be for valentines and prom dresses.

This week the U.S. Senate decided to punt on legislation to put America back on the right economic track again. President Obama has agreed to work with Congress on breaking up the measure and passing proposals on a piece-by-piece basis.  Lawmakers vow to continue the fight.

7 Responses to “Sad to be in the Pink”

  1. Vicki Friedman

    I could not agree more with this article. The GOP has been against schools, education and teachers. They have all the bullies and the idiots in Congress who will never agree to do what is going to help students and teachers. We need more Democrats elected. Not just any Democrat. We need the honest, sincere and concerned Democrats who will not be blue dogs in two weeks after election.

  2. Teresa Brenton

    I teach in a high school in Florida. We have a college algebra class with 43 students in it. We have Spanish classes with 38 students in them. These teachers cannot possibly give their students individual attention. Cuts to education are hurting us and our students. Our dreams of being educators have turned into nightmares.

  3. meg

    Awesome as always. Class size DOES matter.

  4. Ruth-Ellen Smith

    I was so close to tenure in May of 2011, but I was let go from my teaching job. I am still trying to get another job, even though I am getting unemployment payments. I would rather be teaching and helping children, than staying home collecting money for not working.

    I am so ready to return to work, even though I’ve only really been unemployed for 2 months–September and so far in October.

    Help me get a job so I can contribute to children’s educational experiences!

  5. Tom

    More classrooms and smaller class size is the answer unfortunately the largest increase in school budgets have been in the administative side. We need to work towards directing funds to the classroom not just bigger bureaucracies. Don’t blindly support individuals that just want to thow money at a system – vote for those who actually want to decrease class size.

  6. Helen pacheco

    Sadly, it it the Middle and Upper classes that are “opting out” of the public system around here because of the reality of huge class sizes and that their students will spend WAY too much “dead time” in their seats because the teacher can’t POSSIBLY teach toward each individual’s potential. These folks can AFFORD to send their kids to private, religious or homeschools and they do so those public classrooms become even more the province of the “high needs” children from low income areas or recent immigrants who don’t speak English well. As these classrooms become more of an obvious “babysitting service” it is no wonder that many of these kids grow up “nasty and angry” with a system that effectively deprives them of the opportunity for a decent middle class life and the teachers bear the brunt of the whole mess. Because of this trend, I had to be honest with our family and chose to homeschool my own children rather than spend years banging my head against walls trying to improve the “system” for them and losing their valuable learning years in the process. Until the structural system is changed by broad base outrage and forward thinking public policy, there is very little a classroom teacher like me can do to improve the lot of children “stuck” there in classes of 40+ students.

  7. Janice

    We have a middle school algebra class with 65 students. Half face a screen in the back linked to the computer in the front that allows students to see what’s going on. Lecture style algebra in 8th grade! Most of our middle school classes are 36-42. Last year I know there was a high school calculus class with 53 students. Grading writing with those numbers is nearly impossible. I’m glad I’m not trying to run a science lab or teach wood shop with 42 middle schoolers! Hallway supervision is lower than ever as teachers use passing times to answer questions and as other staff have been cut. Behavior is escalating, and it spills over into the classrooms.

    I realize money is tight, and as long as kids come into my room, I’ll do my best to teach them something. However, the more we cope, the more some people will think things are fine. Why spend money to reduce class sizes when things are “working” right now? That is my biggest fear.


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