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Recalling what led up to the decrease in volunteer classroom aides

I first went on the Plumas Unified School District Board of Trustees, representing Indian Valley, in 1968, after my children were all in school. I did take time out to run for the Plumas County Board of Supervisors in 1974, but I resigned that position and was re-elected to the School Board; I served another two years and then resigned to pursue a “late in life” college degree.I’ve still managed to remain aware of the big changes in our schools over the years, the main one being that our schools have become very vulnerable while also less accessible to the community, and I can see a definite reason for this.

In the 1960s, we had “Room Mothers,” Moms who signed up to volunteer as Teacher’s Aides; one or two for each grade, and I happened to be one, so I know that we all helped students with reading, writing and arithmetic, etc., and we all monitored the playgrounds, and hallways. We decorated the classrooms on holidays, made cookies for holiday parties, and generally took the pressure off of the teachers so they could pay more attention to the job of teaching, and less time on control and attention problems.

Along about the early 1970s, someone proposed that the school district pay these Moms for their time and efforts. I was a member of the school board at that time and had been for a couple of years; I voted “No” because I had a feeling that we were about to lose a very valuable program, however, one other board member and myself, were outnumbered. Shortly thereafter, the volunteers were gone and the Teacher’s Aides were put on the payroll. Some of these Aides even took classes in Early Childhood Education, and also learned about teaching methods, so I had to admit that it appeared that I was wrong; the teachers were happy, as were their Aides.

But alas, my worst fears became a reality, the school districts could no longer afford as many Aides as were then established, and a lot of those ladies lost their jobs. Some went back as volunteers, but eventually, even that stopped, due to insurance issues, which was one reason for paying the Aides in the first place. The teachers were still subjected to overcrowded classrooms and growing demands for higher performance, but with far less assistance. Test scores naturally went down, while the pressure on teachers to raise the test scores went up, but teachers had to fight even harder for reasonable payroll increases regardless of the added pressures.

It was no secret that one or two Aides were allowed to stay on, and some were given their own small offices, but their workload increased accordingly; so where are we now? The school has become less accessible to the community with each passing year; and now, there’s discussion concerning arming our teachers; just how much can we really expect of these people? You wouldn’t believe it. There are no hallway monitors, few play ground helpers and far fewer teacher’s Aides as there were in the past; there are larger class sizes, and more pressure to raise test scores, and it’s now being suggested that teachers carry guns.

Parents and teachers alike have the gut level feeling that the “Dumbing down of America” is not a misnomer, and, this is just an overview; the nitty-gritty of the daily classroom enigmas would fill a book. So, what to do? I feel we need to go back to where it started, by once again, encouraging volunteer Aides, and also encouraging parents to attend board meetings, (meetings are only one evening each month) to get re-acquainted with school board members, ask questions concerning test scores and school spending issues, visit with the teachers, listen to their story and be willing to assist if needed.

Accept that the idea of paying teacher Aides, and insisting on making them paraprofessionals did not work, because they have no tenure at any level, and so, as a result, many of them naturally felt used as more and more of them lost their jobs, but even now, It may be too late because who will step up to volunteer while some Aides are being paid? Folks, I truly did see this coming, and perhaps it is late, but better late than never, and if ever the time was right for a change in the right direction, it’s now.

One thought on “Recalling what led up to the decrease in volunteer classroom aides

  • There are still parent volunteers in the classroom, and I am glad of that. Thank you for the article.

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