Daily life for Oregon teachers and students shows the desperate need to invest in schools.
Astoria is my home. I was born and raised here, a K-12 student and graduate from Astoria High School and went to college to pursue a degree in education. I knew it was my calling and I was determined to find a job on the coast because I love it here. I’m a small-town person. Thankfully, I landed a job in the Knappa School District right outside of Astoria. I loved teaching in Knappa, but after seven years, I applied for and was offered a position in my hometown, which I gratefully accepted.
This is my second year teaching in my home community, but with the joy comes a hard dose of reality about the difference between what our students need and what I can provide for them in a system so chronically underfunded. And it is exactly why KGW News is doing an ongoing investigation about “Crisis in the Classroom.” Schools are at the breaking point and it’s our students who are suffering.
I love my current group of students, but I know that the incoming group of fourth graders next year is already exhibiting a lot of challenging behaviors, and there are many students with high behavior needs in this incoming class. When you’re struggling to meet the needs of at least 25 third- or fourth-graders, adding an additional 6-8 students with extreme behaviors can make it feel like your classroom has grown by a dozen students, at least.
Students come to us from challenging backgrounds, which is by no means their fault. Sometimes their parents simply know no other way of parenting, or the trauma that exists seems impossible to overcome. Students seem to lack many executive functioning skills that allow them to be successful alongside their peers, and don’t have coping mechanisms for big emotions. I do think a lot of this can be attributed to technology — which I love and use all the time — but these kids are so trained to the screen. It’s hard to get them engaged. I know this problem is only going to get progressively worse as we have more and more students coming in who are technologically attached.
So, how do I engage them with the resources available to me? It would be so amazing to be able to offer these students the chance to take field trips without having to beg for the funds for a bus to get us out into our community, where my students really come alive. I would love to have access to updated materials and books, but my district doesn’t have a certified librarian working in our schools. The people who do run our libraries do incredible work, but we are asking so much of them without a certification.
Most of all, I know my students really need more counselors, a school psychologist, and mental health supports. Our students come from such challenging backgrounds and really need somebody to talk to. One person supporting 400 students in our building is insufficient. If we had mental health services in our schools, I believe it would be a preventative measure for reducing incarceration rates and homelessness in our adult populations. Targeting mental health in kids, before they enter adulthood, would help break that cycle. It’s cheaper to educate than it is to incarcerate.
I’m a product of the Oregon school system and a product of Measure 5. I have never been in the Oregon school system as a student or educator in which we have been fully funded. What could I have accomplished in my life, if my education had been fully funded? Here I am, doing the best I can, to try and scrape together education for the next generation. Now that I’m an adult, I feel far more hopeless about it than I did as a kid. Every day, we must ask ourselves: are we setting ourselves up for failure, or are we setting ourselves up for a better future? Right now, I don’t think our state is doing the best that we can for our kids.
That is why I, and teachers across the state, will participate in the Statewide Day of Action on May 8. This activism is unprecedented in Oregon, but things have become so desperate for our students that we are standing up like never before. In February nearly 5,000 teachers marched on the state Capitol. We are not going to stop until lawmakers finally step up and do what’s needed and what’s right for our students. Please join with your local educators and school staff as we work to obtain the schools our students deserve.
Melissa Grothe is a fourth-grade teacher at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Astoria.