Guest blogger Ashley Hermsmeier is a teacher, runner and writer in her sixth year of teaching English at El Capitan High School in Lakeside. In her blog titled, “I Run Because I Teach” she discusses the two aspects of life that simultaneously mean the most and frustrate her the most (besides her husband)— teaching and running.

These are her reflections and opinions, not mine, so if you have burning questions or comments, please contact Ashley via e-mail at amorrow@guhsd.net. Or post a comment here on the blog.

EMILY ALPERT

8:02 a.m. Second Period

My students shuffle into the classroom turning off cell phones and stowing iPods in hoodie pockets.  As they sit down and begin to unpack their things, I hear pieces of conversations and the occasional cough or sniffle.  When I take roll I notice six students are absent. I usually have two empty desks, for a class size of 37, but today the room feels cavernous. I am reminded of the teacher down the hall who doesn’t have enough desks for all her 42 students; I feel lucky to have only 37 students.

I ask absentmindedly, “What’s up? Is it senior ditch day or something?” A chorus of “she’s sick,” and “he’s sick” answers me. I look to the back of the room and see the empty tissue box glaring at me. With the budget cuts this year, my department could only afford to order a few boxes per teacher. That was my last box. Now, every time a sniffling student needs a tissue, he or she will have to leave class, walk down the hall to the bathroom, and thus miss important aspects of my lecture on the English Renaissance.

I look around the classroom and see dusty hairballs in every corner and dirt caked on the windowsills. Random scraps of paper, a broken mechanical pencil, and pieces of a dissected ballpoint pen are scattered under and between students’ feet. There is even a little pile of red dirt under a desk from a student who must have walked through mud on the way to school. They sit in filth most days of the week because our campus has only two custodians this year, as opposed to four last year and six the year before that. I make a mental note to sweep and dust the room after school (before I finish grading the 148 essays also glaring at me from the back of the room) and then buy tissues on my way home.

10:15 a.m. Prep Period

I walk to the library to reserve it for a research project. Today the place is a tomb; not a single student is inside the library. Budget cuts have made it inaccessible and unwelcoming. Last year it was bustling with students who came at all times of the day to do work, take tests, finish typing essays, or check out a reading book. However, this year the hours fluctuate daily based on the schedule and contract hours of the one librarian left to run the whole facility. This means the two girls I saw trying to check out independent reading books for English class will not be able to get them until the library arbitrarily reopens. Hopefully they will be able to get the books at lunch, because after school is just as unreliable as the rest of the day. I think of the freshman girl yesterday who was talking on her cell phone outside the library 10 minutes after the final bell rang, panicking about needing to type an essay. This is in direct contrast to the efficient library of last year. I wonder why our campus is the only one in the district without an assistant librarian?

Dirty classrooms and an inaccessible library are only two examples of how budget cuts have directly affected the students, teachers and classified staff on our campus, and the cuts affect each site in different ways. I wonder how our district can afford to start new programs, yet can’t keep current programs such as auto shop running properly. For example, how can the new literacy program justify spending money on a wine and cheese social, yet won’t provide the money and resources necessary to keep a campus library open with regular hours? Wouldn’t improving a library’s accessibility be a step toward literacy? I’d like to know why the district feels its programs are more important than our English, science or math programs? What does the district get for creating (instead of maintaining) programs nearly every year?

I also wonder how a district that received a $10 million dollar savings off the backs of teachers and students last year (by increasing class sizes), can now ask teachers to accept a contract that includes two furlough days and a 2.9 percent pay cut? (Especially considering they had a surprising $32.6 million ending balance last year.) It seems that those on top are requiring more and more from all of us, yet they are providing fewer and fewer resources with which to do it. Now they’re expecting us to give up even more? I hate to say it, but our children are becoming left behind because our schools have been left behind.

— ASHLEY HERMSMEIER

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