“Teacher Assistants have been under attack, and now we’re left in the lurch,” said Melinda Zarate, State Secretary of the NC Association of Teacher Assistants. She was referencing the fact that the two chambers of the legislature have not yet come to an agreement on a final budget. Meanwhile, the legislature is slated to go on vacation next week, leaving the fate of teacher assistants unknown.
“You all have a happy Fourth of July. We’re going to the beach,” Zarate joked the senators were saying to teacher assistants. “Maybe we’ll fire you when we get back.”
The Senate seeks to reduce class sizes in grades K-3, while cutting teacher assistants, with some senators saying the reduction in class sizes mitigates the need for teacher assistants.
Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake) spoke at the press conference, saying that the decimation of teacher assistant positions over the last few years has gone too far.
He said in the 2008-09 school year, North Carolina employed 22,500 teacher assistants. Today, it only employs 15,300.
“Under this bill, the Senate bill, it would take away another 8,600 teacher assistants,” he said. “All combined, this would represent a 70 percent reduction from where we were as a state seven years ago.”
In the gathered crowd was George O’Brian, who has a daughter that teaches in North Carolina public schools. He spoke with the assistant to Rep. Gale Adcock, (D-Wake) Tuesday. Adcock is not supportive of the TA cuts. O’Brian says his daughter needs TAs to teach effectively.
“My daughter teaches special ed, and she couldn’t operate her classroom without aids. Those kids need individual attention, and if you take away her aids they are going to learn nothing,” he said.
TA Candace Herring said that the student population is too complex for one teacher to handle everything.
“I have had 23 kids in a kindergarten class, three with special needs, four with undocumented special needs,” she said. “One on one is very difficult, but it’s needed, and that can’t happen with only one teacher.”
Michelle Bailey, the 2014-15 NC Association of Teacher Assistants TA of the Year, says that being a teacher assistant isn’t just a job for her.
“I have been a TA for seven years. I have always loved children. I taught preschool for 10 years and knew I had a calling,” she said. “God wanted me where I am. I love children I am where I need to be.”
She teaches at Carolina Forest Elementary School in Jacksonville, and says the worst part of all this is the waiting.
“We’re all on nerves. Pins and needles in waiting,” she said. “We can’t even plan anything for next school year.”