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Number of Teacher Assistants Declining in North Carolina Schools

November 14, 2011

DURHAM, N.C. - This year, many teachers in North Carolina have more pupils in their classrooms, and less help from teacher assistants, thanks to budget cutting by state lawmakers. It's a problem made worse by growing class sizes. TAs often help children with special needs or assist in class projects.

With this being American Education Week, educators are using the occasion to draw attention to the problem. Meg Bell, a teacher's assistant in Union County, helps with first- and second-graders, and can't imagine how one teacher could handle the classroom on her own.

"To manage that many children by yourself, you can't do it. I mean you can not do it enough to really feel like you're helping these kids. Kids are missing out; it's very stressful."

More then 16,000 jobs were eliminated from North Carolina schools by budget-cutting. Of those, 76 percent are teacher or teacher-assistant positions.

Sheri Strickland, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, points out that, while there is less help for teachers in the classroom, the amount of work is the same or greater. She hopes residents and lawmakers in the Tarheel State begin to reevaluate their priorities when it comes to funding public education.

"It is the public schools that are preparing the children. If we're concerned about our economy and we're concerned about turning things around, the way to do that is public education."

There are approximately 400,000 more pupils in North Carolina public schools this school year, compared to 2008-09, before the significant staff reductions.

In celebration of American Education week, on Wednesday Strickland will serve as a teaching assistant for a special-needs classroom in Durham. It's been six years since she taught on a regular basis.

"I think it will remind me of what my days were like when I was in the classroom every day. You are on the go from the minute you walk in to the minute you leave."

This is the 90th anniversary for American Education Week, created in 1919 because of concern that 25 percent of the country's World War I draftees were illiterate.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC