October 6, 2022

We need to place more value on education. Pass HB5283.

Fred Thornley III • Noah Webster Middle School Teacher

Teaching in Hartford is no longer about being inspired, it is about getting through the day. 

When spending just a short amount of time inside of a school building in Hartford, it quickly becomes evident just how underfunded our schools really are. Classrooms are crowded, student to staff ratios are out of control, and most faculty and staff are just trying to make it through the day. 

Calling this school year challenging in Hartford would be an understatement. We are suffering from an ever-increasing staffing shortage, and there is currently no end in sight. And for every teacher who ultimately chooses to leave the district, the amount of work needed in the district does not change, placing more responsibility on the teachers in the school, and the likelihood of remaining teachers to leave increases exponentially. This feeds into a repetitive cycle that needs to end. 

Along with my typical teaching workload, my days at work are filled with covering other classes during my prep periods and compensating for our lack of staff. Instead of spending time thinking about lesson plans for my students, I am spending the few planning periods I do have thinking about the logistics of the next day and which teachers will be out and who will have to cover. Our teachers are all overextending themselves and trying to do everything they can to give our students positive experiences, but we cannot do it alone.

An integral part of teaching and building successful relationships with students is providing meaningful feedback on their performance in the classroom and providing individualized attention to each student. WIthout personalized feedback from teachers, students cannot grow and improve their behaviors and thought processes in the classroom. Individualized attention allows teachers to get to know their students, while also helping them to feel safe and secure in school and succeed in their academics. Unfortunately, time and structure for teachers during the school day are needed to be able to curate and deliver that feedback, and additional support staff are needed to give students essential one-on-one attention. However, that is currently impossible because, as teachers, we are all operating in survival mode, and there is not enough staff to focus on individual students. 

Many of these issues existed before COVID, but have been exacerbated throughout the past two years. Fortunately, Connecticut schools were granted federal dollars to help mitigate learning loss that occurred during the pandemic in the form of American Rescue Plan (ARP) ESSER funds. These funds can help schools in districts like Hartford to hire additional staff or implement new programming to help teachers and students. Unfortunately, however, our district will not hire new staff or implement necessary programming for fear of what will happen when the funds expire. Without fully funding education by the time these federal dollars run out, implementing new initiatives is pointless. Our schools need the financial security to be able to adequately provide for our students. 

None of the improvements needed in our classrooms can be done successfully without the necessary personnel. There are so many differentiating factors within the classroom, and the only way we will be able to improve upon or fix the issues within our schools is investment in human capital. We need high quality teachers with manageable workloads, and high quality support staff to help keep these workloads manageable. Every child needs support, and that support looks different for each student. We need the personnel that can provide this support across the board–more teachers, social workers, classroom aids, etc. The success of our students depends on it.

Connecticut legislative bill HB5283 will require the state to expedite the ECS phase in and fully fund education by the time the federal dollars run out, giving our schools the opportunity to provide necessary resources for our students, while also easing the burden that often falls onto the shoulders of our educators. Teachers are on the frontlines. We are juggling multiple responsibilities, all while trying to ensure that the next generation of Connecticut leaders is receiving a fair, equitable and adequate classroom experience. What lawmakers do during this legislative session tells us the value we as a state place on education, on our students and on our hardworking teachers. If lawmakers do not pass HB5283, they are telling us that we are not valued, and that some students simply do not matter.
Join me in demanding equitable school funding. 

Fred Thornley III