By Amanda Litvinov
Some things you just have to learn on the job. Retired Connecticut educator Jon-Paul Roden says for him, one of those things was how to set up his computer lab in the late 1990s when he was introducing middle school students to the Internet.
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“In the beginning, there weren’t screens and blocks like they have now—that led to some real ‘teachable moments,’” he recalls. “I learned quickly to set up the computer lab so I could always see the screens.”
Roden knows that without appropriate class sizes and resources, he wouldn’t have been able to prepare those kids with the technology skills they needed to succeed in college and in their careers. He also knows that if draconian, across-the-board cuts of more than $3 billion go into effect on March 1, millions of today’s students will lose vital services in special education, Head Start, and early childhood learning along with all other federally funded education programs.
And that’s just part of the message that Roden and half a dozen other retired teachers set out to tell their members of Congress in person last week. Their other plea was that in the process of negotiating a deal, lawmakers avoid destroying the retirement security that Roden and his peers have relied on.
“If they hack into Medicare and call that a budget solution, what happens to future retirees?” he asked. “Connecticut is also a state that is affected by the Government Pension Offset/Windfall Elimination Provision, so I got in a few words about that, too,” said Roden of the controversial offsets that can eat substantial portions of a recipient’s Social Security benefits. “I use every minute I have during my meeting.”
Retired educators are effective speakers on issues like these, because theirs are the voices of experience.
“No one knows better than our most experienced educators what happens when class sizes increase, special education services are cut and Social Security and Medicare are threatened,” said NEA Director of Government Relations Mary Kusler. “Retired educators’ dedication to public education and preserving retirement security for future generations is inspiring—they write letters, make phone calls, go to the state house and even visit their members of Congress in Washington if they have the opportunity.”
Rosalind Yee, who retired after teaching for 33 years in Maryland, decided to keep her message simple: education cuts always hurt.
“Giving these kids a good education is the only way they’re going to succeed later in life,” said Yee. “Keep cutting education, and right away kids are in crowded classrooms with no aides, and without enough materials.”
When Yee first started teaching, she had 45 children per class.
“They were spilling out into the hallway because at that time, we didn’t have class size limitations. I’m only glad they were in 2nd grade—if they were any bigger we couldn’t have managed. But I was always scared that I was cheating them—it was just so hard to get around to give each group personal attention.”
That’s why she can’t imagine Congress allowing the sequestration cuts to go into effect on top of the $1.5 trillion already cut for services including education, veteran’s benefits and transportation in 2011. And she’s using every method she can to get that message to the nation’s top decision makers.
In fact, she’s scheduled an appointment to meet with Rep. Stenny Hoyer, even though he doesn’t represent her.
“I taught with his wife and I taught one of his children,” said Yee. “I’ll talk to everyone I can about these cuts.”