By the middle of October in any given school year, students are situated into their routines, snug in their desks. They have finally committed their class schedules to memory. They know what their teachers expect of them. They have begun to know their classmates. Their notebooks are filled with notes.
This year, two weeks beyond the contracted deadline, the School District has used its leveling sledgehammer to collapse classes and smash to smithereens much of what students and teachers have worked so hard to accomplish. The schools become unhinged just as they were settling in. The cost is incalculable.
When leveling occurs, the District must reshuffle schools' staff to match their actual enrollments, and class rosters have to be remade. Children are often assigned to different teachers with different teaching styles or ones who are in a different place in the curriculum. Some subjects are eliminated, and the work done since September is lost.
Recently, one of my 9th-grade students came to me in disgust, saying, “Now I have to learn this new roster just when I got used to my old one!” Ninth-grade students are among the most vulnerable. Changing their teachers or courses in the first months of school does not help them to adapt to high school's unfamiliar surroundings.
On Monday, our school lost two special education teachers. Last Friday, it was sad watching them peel the decorations off their classroom walls. As a result of their leaving, three special education classes will be collapsed into two. Last year, four special education classes were collapsed into three.
As a result of leveling and last year’s financial cutbacks, the school has effectively lost two levels of reading and two levels of math as some students will have to move up or down one or more levels.
In the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scenario that the cash-strapped District has set up, these disruptions totally outweigh the addition of a new counselor in the school from the money the School Reform Commission says it would save from taking away our health benefits. Despite this so-called infusion of resources, I have never seen my principal so upset.
Teachers, as always, will be expected to make up the slack. Problems created by the District, city, and state leaders should not need to be fixed by school staff who have little control over what is happening.
This endless disruption casts a pall over the staff, which, sadly, spreads to the children who now wonder why their teacher left them. Churn and constant disruption are not good for the students and are not good for the teachers.
As one teacher said, “We are family, and our family is being broken up.”
Eileen M. DiFranco, R.N., is a certified school nurse who has proudly served the schoolchildren of Philadelphia for 23 years. She is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.