Teachers at risk: cuts may cost jobs

Despite the fact that the worst recession in decades has technically come to an end, its backlash continues to leave a deep-seated trail of joblessness and state budget issues that few can escape. Unfortunately, the Ames Community School District is no exception, and there are no easy solutions in sight. Current ACSD Board budget plans suggest that at Ames High alone, there could be 7 teacher positions cut, due to reduced course offerings and larger class sizes. “There’s a lot left to be determined. The teachers have to ratify the negotiated contract and the school board has more to do, but the English department will be facing a minimum of one teacher cut,” said Darin Johnson, teacher and co-chair of the English department at Ames High. Though to many, a single cut may seem like getting off easy, the implications are huge for teachers and students alike. Each teacher will be taking on an additional 20 to 30 students with class sizes ranging from the mid-20s to as high as the mid-30s. Prep time for teachers could possibly be condensed as well. Currently, most teachers have two periods to prepare for their courses, but the board is considering options to reduce this to one period a day, either by adding another class or holding study halls in teachers’ rooms. “With only one prep period and more students, we’ll have to assign fewer essays and shorter essays, not to mention the amount of feedback we can give will be limited and the timeliness of the feedback will certainly suffer too,” said James Webb, teacher and co-chair of the English department with Johnson. Johnson added that the changes will make it hard to maintain rigor in core classes, while many electives just won’t be offered. “With class sizes topping 30, we might not even have enough computers for every student to have use on lab days,” Johnson said. The change in class sizes will also lead to less differentiation in the classroom. “We won’t be able to cater to students’ individual needs as much as we have in the past,” Webb said. “And when your classroom includes both kids that are two or three grade levels above the required skill level and others that are two or three grade levels below it, being able to differentiate is a big deal.” The practical dilemmas that the budget cuts will inevitably cause are just the beginning. Student-teacher relationships may suffer the most. “We try to teach with the philosophy of building connections and maintaining good relationships with students, but the huge class sizes means that more students will unfortunately fall through the cracks,” Webb said. “With [the possibility of] only one preparation period, there will be less time for students to come talk to us, and we’ll be forced to spend more of that time working on grading and prep, rather than interacting with kids.” Along with the countless detrimental ramifications teacher cuts will have in classrooms throughout Ames High comes perhaps the most frustrating fact of all surrounding the impending budget issues: that with the state budget in its current state of crisis, cuts are simply unavoidable.