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Meet Michelle: A Dose of Reality

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Michelle Rynbrandt-Hendricks is a 2013-14 Hope Street Group Fellow and is in her 9th year of teaching in the public schools. Currently a 4th grade teacher at Freedom Elementary in Bullitt County, Michelle began her career in special education, teaching in both high school and elementary settings..

Meet Michelle, high school special education teacher in her first year at the high school level. Daily she deals with situations where students cannot control their emotions and act out by cussing, throwing things, sometimes physically harming themselves. She is forced to use textbooks with copyright dates in the early 1980's. She must try to teach 18 students with special needs at the same time. She teaches five different subjects including Algebra, even though she hasn't taken an Algebra course since she herself was in high school.

All of this happens from an office converted to a "classroom." Raw plywood covers an old row of windows that separates this "classroom" from the one next door. Michelle came in every day for a week before school started, using her own money and time, to paint the room trying to make it welcoming, or at the very least hospitable for her students -- kids who already felt like failures and abandoned by everyone. Michelle suffered from chronic sinus infections and other respiratory illness for six months as a result of being housed in a room without proper ventilation.

Michelle does double duty as an elementary school teacher. She tries to engage 36 9-year-olds during math, to help another teacher who has multiple grade levels in her room and can't possibly cover the entire curriculum.

Michelle logs 50 hours in one 9-week period volunteering time after school so that students can have the experience of being part of a drama production. The result is a packed gymnasium that gives a standing ovation to 60 beaming students. As she watches from off stage her heart is full.

Michelle has been teaching for nine years. Michelle is me and I am not alone.

The reality is that teachers will do what it takes to make things happen for kids. Teachers will buy Kyle a new pair of shoes when his are so full of holes and won't stay on his feet, they will pitch in to pay a plumber to fix the toilet for the family who can't flush theirs, they will beg for someone to give Andy a haircut; get the heat turned on where Morgan's lives and make sure Jamie and her 3-year-old little brother have presents from Santa.

Teachers always have been and always will be givers. They are fiercely protective of their charges. Just because teachers and other school employees will move mountains in order to get what their kids need, doesn't mean they should have to move mountains.

Fully funding education means that the above situations don't have to be so common. Safe and functional spaces for kids to learn, fair compensation and a protected retirement for teachers, adequate support for professional development and training so that teachers can be prepared for the subjects they teach--these things should not be the exception. Fully funding education should be the rule.

Teachers are a resourceful and enthusiastic force. Think of the incredible things that would happen in our schools if teachers didn't have to use all of their energy to put out fires, but could instead use their resources to innovate and empower our kids and our future.

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