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Dear Decaturish – A teacher offers their perspective on DeKalb County Schools

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Dear Decaturish – A teacher offers their perspective on DeKalb County Schools

DeKalb County School District Administration and Industrial Complex on Mountain Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse

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Note: While Decaturish normally requires letters to be signed, we are waiving that requirement in this case, so this teacher can speak without fear of retaliation. We have independently verified this teacher’s identity and confirmed they work for the school district. 

Dear Decaturish,

Have you ever met a public school teacher? We are arguably the cheeriest, most excited people out there! Especially in elementary schools.

We buy all the cute decor and come up with fun themes for learning each year. We decorate each bulletin board and make them extra cute because we want your child to feel warm, welcome, and safe because we know how scary it is for many of them to be stepping away from their loving home. We can’t wait for the beginning of the school year because we’re so excited to build a classroom community where every student feels inspired, intelligent, and SEEN for whomever they are. We help encourage them and push them to do their personal best each day. We show them that nothing is impossible if you’re passionate and willing to do the work.

But we are BREAKING I have seen so many educators leave the field to take jobs that pay more, but I assure you THAT is not why they’re leaving (especially in DCSD).

First, it was not getting the resources or training we needed during the pandemic, but teachers put their heads down and pushed their sleeves up, and we DID it. We should’ve all left then, but we didn’t. You know why? Because we love relationships. We love seeing kids blossom and grow.

But it’s the little things that have been building up since the pandemic that I think might’ve finally broken me. I have been teaching in DCSD for 10 years, and I have never once sat down to think seriously about whether this was sustainable. But today I did.

Before last school year, DCSD promised us new ELA textbooks. K-2 didn’t arrive till November, and 3-5 has yet to receive any of the books we were promised. But teachers got back up and made it work with many teachers using their own money to purchase materials and resources to use. I am sure teachers will purchase more materials and resources this year since we have no date for when we will get them.

You know why? Because teachers can’t wait to see the student’s faces when they reach the first goal they set for themselves. For some students, this may be the first time that they’ve felt like a winner.

Last year I worked in a school that frequently had HVAC problems and worked many hot days in a row with no A/C several times throughout the year. We had days when we had to move an entire grade level into the cafeteria because there was no heat in the trailers. But teachers didn’t gripe or complain. We brought fans in from our own homes and made do.

You know why? Because we know that for some kids, school is their only safe place, and we want to show up to be there for them and make them feel loved.

DCSD knew over a year ago that we were getting new math standards this fall. However, we do not have ANY new resources for these new standards nor have teachers had access to proper training from DCSD. They have not even posted their own curriculum units past Unit 1, despite having more than enough time to develop these units. We were told they ordered some materials but if I still haven’t gotten my ELA books, why would I believe the math materials will be any different?

But teachers are going to make it happen. I went to a GADOE math conference with several colleagues for three days over the summer that I was in no way compensated for and had to seek out on my own. In fact, I had to pay $400 in childcare for my kids to go to camp that week, so I could go.

You know why? Because teachers LIVE for the moment when the shy kid finds their voice for the first time and begins speaking and leading classroom discussions, and we want to be prepared to discuss these new standards with them and know what we are talking about.

This year, DCSD told all Academic Coaches, MTSS Specialists, and Instructional Support Staff that they could and would be put into a classroom for the first 45 days.
That wasn’t even a big deal for me. I fall under this category, and I’m looking forward to building relationships with students because I miss the daily interaction and bond that comes from being in the same classroom each day.

We want what’s best for kids. But DCSD won’t let us be great.

The new area of the school that my classroom is supposed to be in is not ready yet because DCSD failed to use the summer break to complete the project. I found out on Friday afternoon that I would temporarily teach in a trailer. No big deal.

I gave up two hours of my Saturday to set up my temporary classroom because I wanted everything to be ready and welcoming for students on the first day.

But the final straw? I went by my school today to make a few copies for tomorrow. When I went to drop them off, my trailer was in complete disarray. Desk chairs were all stacked up, furniture on completely different sides of the rooms from where they had been.

don’t yet know how or why this happened, but I am sure it was some kind of miscommunication or mistake but these types of mistakes are happening more and more and we are TIRED. All that hard work on my day off for nothing.

But I stayed and fixed up my room all over again because I want what’s best for children and children deserve to show up to a nice set up room on their first day so they can feel proud to go to their school. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to call DCSD my home. The teachers want what’s best for children but we’re not the problem and until the problems are fixed, DCSD will continue to lose great teachers.

How can we help make the district want what’s best for children?

Signed a concerned DCSD Teacher

P.S. Since initially writing this letter, I spent the entire first week teaching in a trailer without air conditioning or internet access. Several other rooms in my building have had to deal with building issues such as flooded classrooms due to HVAC issues or also being without air conditioning. I know that my school is not alone in continuing to fight major building issues, even after the Druid Hills and Lakeside videos, when we had genuine hope things might get better.

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