Teacher's assistants explain their role, but brace for cuts

Posted May 30, 2011 11:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 30, 2011 11:42 p.m. EDT

— Thousands of teacher's assistants in elementary classrooms are facing the chopping block under the state Senate's $19.4 budget proposal, which was unveiled last week and includes cuts to education spending overall.

Supporters of eliminating about 13,000 teaching assistant positions in grades 1 through 3 across the state say it would protect teachers' jobs, while others argue it would hurt education in elementary classrooms.

"We are the foundation of the bridge; but if you don't have the foundation, the bridge doesn't work," said Fran Cameron, a first grade teacher's assistant at Joyner Elementary School in Raleigh.

She and her colleague Darcel Davis say their role it to provide extra guidance for students, keep lesson plans moving forward, assist with discipline so teachers can remain focused on the lesson and ensure that no student gets left behind.

"If there are students who don't actually get (a particular) skill, I pull those kids aside and re-teach what's already been taught," Davis said.

She fears that children might fall through the cracks without the instructional support of teacher's assistants.

"It makes me sad. It makes me sad for all of the children," Davis said. "Kids need to have someone tell them that they care, they need that support."

"We want all the children to be successful all of the time," Cameron said.

If the current version of the state budget passes, the Wake County school system alone would have to cut more than 800 teacher's assistant positions. In 2009, the district eliminated 400 teacher's assistants.

Superintendent Tony Tata is reaching out to teachers to better understand why they need classroom assistance.

"Teacher assistants in (kindergarten, first and second grades) help them better manage their classrooms," Tata said.