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How Teacher Professional Development Changed My Teaching (and a Student's Life)

This guest blog post is part of a series on the potential impact of President Trump's proposed cuts to education, aiming to put real student and teacher faces behind the budget cuts. The series includes the following posts:

  1. Winter is Coming: What Trumps Budget Proposal Means for Public Education by me
  2. What Does Trump's Education Budget Say About our Values as a Country? by Cathy Whitehead
  3. Does Trump's Education Budget Support our Future Workforce? by Stefani Cook

I'm proud to share the next guest post by Anna Baldwin. Anna Baldwin has taught high school English for 19 years on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. She is the 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year and served as a Teacher Ambassador Fellow for the United States Department of Education. Follow her @annaebaldwin

The president's proposed aggressive cuts to education are yet another slap in the face of students and educators nationwide. Eighty percent of American kids attend public schools—that's 50 million children to be affected by these cuts. Over half of public school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, a measurement considered a proxy for poverty level. Thus, over 25 million students will be disproportionately affected by all the cuts aimed at supporting our neediest kids, including 21st Century Learning Centers, Title II, and in some cases Title I.

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To illustrate the poverty and support levels of the district where I teach, located on the Flathead Indian Reservation, we are fully free-lunch district. Our district receives the Community Eligibility Provision, a service through the USDA which offers free meals to all students regardless of income. Moreover, we are a district-wide Title I program, which means that our poverty level is consistently high enough across our population that all students receive assistance.

As a districtwide Title I program, we are eligible to roll our Title II funding into our Title I budget. This funding is used to support great teaching for all our students by contributing to the Title I monies. We engage many aides in our buildings, supporting students in grades K-12 in their literacy and math development through small-group and review sessions. An across-the-board cut to Title II means at least one teaching or paraeducator position in our district; the loss of even one of these aides will have palpable impacts on many students.

Eliminating Title II could also mean a reduction in the amount of support we receive as teachers. There is a lot of chatter about how professional development (PD) is ineffective, but let me provide an example of how it does work when it's focused on teachers' needs: our PD sessions over the past couple of years have focused on supporting students with autism, students in crisis, and students with other special needs. We have a very high proportion of all those students. Without the PD, I would have been much more poorly equipped to meet the needs of the students in front of me every day.

An example of this occurred two years ago, when at the beginning of the year an hour of our in-service included an in-depth look at autism and its symptoms and outcomes. This was followed by a panel discussion by adults with autism. They talked to us about what their lives are like, what they worry about, and how they perceive the world. Later that school year, specifically and only because of that in-service paid for by Title II, I recognized symptoms of autism in one of my seniors. He had never been tested for autism before, but he clearly fell onto the spectrum with the tests initiated that year, and with the identification of autism he was able to enter the university the next fall with assistance and supports already in place to ensure his success. That PD had a major positive impact on that young man's life, thanks to Title II funds.

Along with other potential cuts to Impact Aid, 21st Century Learning Centers, and Medicaid expansion, elimination of Title II funding would directly, and tangibly, affect both the students and the teachers in my rural reservation public school district. Let's work to ensure that our students get the funding they need to succeed.

Photo: "Trump Tower" by Flickr user m01229, licensed under Creative Commons.

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