State budget cuts spell tough times for teachers going back to school


As teachers return to school, they're preparing for more than just new students and new lesson plans. They're preparing to face a year of tough budget constraints.

Lois Porter is one of the many teachers who will be doing her best. After 40 years as a teacher in several states and nine years as a substitute in the county, Mrs. Porter will join the school system at Old Mill Middle School South this fall.

"I just love teaching," Mrs. Porter said. "I refuse to give it up as long as I'm able to make a contribution. I think that's the important thing."

Such devotion seems almost mandatory in these days of frozen budgets and strained resources.

"Teachers are very concerned, even frightened," said Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County President Thomas J. Paolino. "Before this weekend, teachers were concerned with the fact that they haven't had a raise in two years. Funds for materials of instruction have been cut. Many of our schools are at capacity or over capacity. We're establishing schools in trailers.

"Now, there's even more to worry about. The governor has said we can expect additional cuts. There will be more of a strain on education. But despite all that, teachers still will be doing their best," Mr. Paolino added.

Mrs. Porter, who doesn't like to reveal her age, began her career in Orlando, Fla. as an elementary school teacher. She later moved on to middle-school students.

"They are challenging," Mrs. Porter said. "They need to have teachers that love them. I do. I think that's what makes me successful at teaching."

Mrs. Porter said she longed to get back into teaching full-time in the county, but never found a full-time position. After working from October to June as a long-term substitute, Mrs. Porter said she decided she would not work as a long-term substitute again.

"I was doing the same work as a contractual teacher, but for half the price," she said. "I think if you're going to put that many hours into a job, then you ought to be compensated."

The school system apparently agreed, hiring Mrs. Porter to teach four seventh-grade classes -- two language arts and two social studies.

During her 40 years as a teacher, Mrs. Porter said she has seen many changes -- positive and negative -- in schools and students.

"The biggest difference is the discipline problem," she said. "When I began teaching, if you had one disruptive student in the classroom, it was rare. Now, if you have four or five students who aren't some sort of discipline problem, it's rare.

"Students are now coming to the schools with so many problems. Teachers are having to be all things to all children. You have to be mother, father and counselor. Students are almost spending more time with teachers than with their parents. The change in society has caused teachers to spend much more time disciplining than teaching.

"Teachers are competing with the outside influences of video games and television," she added. "Their minds are going in so many different directions. We have to work a little harder to keep them focused."

She said television, however, also has proven an asset to teaching. Years ago, teachers were fortunate if they had a filmstrip to accompany a lesson. Now, many companies automatically include videotapes and visual materials to assist teachers with their lesson plans.

"A teacher just has to keep things interesting because kids are so easily bored," Mrs. Porter added.

As she talks about her love of students and the need for other teachers to feel the same way, Mrs. Porter becomes teary-eyed. She recalls a young man who went to the school's principal to report she was harassing him. Mrs. Porter said she told the young man she would never ask him to do another thing if he didn't want her to show how much she cared.

"I told him I ask you to do your work and your homework because I love you," she said. "I saw that young man in the mall two or three months ago and he came up and gave me a hug. That's what makes it all worthwhile."

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