AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Educators comment on their
school conditions

The AFT recently asked educators to tell us about the physical conditions of the schools where they work. Read some of their responses below.

Paint is peeling off walls in classrooms. There is one tiny room with a toilet and an old sink with cold water for faculty and staff; there is one small room with a toilet and an old sink with cold water for the students. These two sinks provide the only drinking water. There are no bookshelves to provide a small library area for students. The exterior of the building also needs to be painted. The school is surrounded mostly by dirt and weeds and dead shrubs. Because of the derelict conditions, students and faculty feel that they are of no importance and that education is of no consequence. The lack of sanitary facilities is disgusting and brings health problems. A library, modern lavatory and paint would greatly improve the appearance of the school. It would allow the students, mostly adults studying in a GED or ESOL program, to feel they—and education—have some value.

—adult education teacher, Indiantown, Fla.

For the past two years, I've been teaching in a demountable portable classroom, which was built for air conditioning. We cannot open the windows. In the spring of 2011, the coils of the air conditioner were stolen. Since then, there has been no air conditioning in a building with windows that cannot be opened, even when the temperature was 90 plus degrees. I thought of my students who had to endure that inhumane situation, so I took my cooler and filled it with ice and enough bottled water for each of them. No one has yet offered us even water, let alone an end to this environment that is not conducive to teaching and learning. Where is some compassion and assistance? Winter in Chicago is approaching. Will we be without heat also? We have three fans blowing hot air. The noise makes it impossible to hear, my students can't hear me or their classmates, and I can't hear them. So we have to turn off the fans. I walk around soaking wet, with perspiration dripping all over everything.

—teacher, Chicago

I am currently sitting in a building with virtually non-existent thermostatic control. It's freezing one day and frying the next. The stairwell has a crack in it that extends the entire width of the stairs—I am waiting for the entire stairs to collapse. This building was constructed 50 years ago by the lowest bidder. Need I say more? It is next to impossible to teach a room full of students over the sound of chattering teeth, or the stench of sweat. Several faculty have had chronic health issues that clear up every time they are away from this building for a few days or more.

—professor, Eastern Illinois University

Our school probably isn't the worst looking building and doesn't have the worst conditions, but we do experience problems. We struggle keeping our computers running and having enough computers to service our students. The tile in the hallway and classrooms is becoming detached from the floor. Our building is about 17 years old, and no major work has been done since it was built. The heating and AC are major issues. We have purchased electric heaters to heat classrooms in the winter, moved rooms in the spring/summer because of our AC being broken, and currently have a mobile AC in our computer lab. Even with the mobile unit, the temperatures become almost unbearable. Our student computers are 8-10 years old and, every day, we have computers break down. Some teachers have computers more than 10 years old, which are practically unusable.

—teacher, Evarts, Ky.

The carpet in my classroom has had repeated episodes of getting wet from air conditioner leaks and other problems. They shampoo the rugs, but what is under the carpet cannot be cleaned. Pre-K students sit on the floor and sleep on the floor in close proximity to the carpet. We have been trying to get the carpet removed for the four years I have been at this school site. I feel that student absenteeism is higher, and students miss out on learning if they are at home sick. I myself sometimes find my eyes burning at the end of the day after being in the class all day.

—teacher, New Orleans

My school has no windows and has mice, and the hurricane that went through recently flooded many rooms and many items were lost or damaged. Class size is outrageous, new teachers do not have the support they need and the student behavior is terrible. The school has done everything it can to resolve these issues, but with limited funds it is very difficult. There are no windows, so the school is very dark, making it not conducive for learning. The mice come out whenever and leave droppings, which is a health issue in itself.

—staff developer, Baltimore

Our pipes leak every spring and fall to the point that we have large garbage cans in the hall to collect the water. One year the entire ceiling in the staff bathroom was like a spiderweb of water droplets. The wooden cabinets in many classrooms are peeling and unsightly. All students in our district in grades 7-12 received netbook computers, but when I try to enter grades or read the many assignments emailed to me (since my students have NOWHERE to print) our server continually drops me. It's difficult to do my job when I can't perform essential tasks like entering attendance or grades or read emails of student work because of our internet infrastructure problems.

—teacher, Rudyard, Mich.


The main problem is overcrowding. In several classes, there are not enough seats. Many classrooms are in revamped closets. Trying to give a student extra help is frustrating. Because there are no rooms or few areas available during the school day, I am forced to help my students in the hallways. At times, that help occurs sitting on the floor. There is always a climate control problem, too. The main problem is that we don't work in a climate-controlled building, Forget about A/C! When the heat comes on, some classes get it all and some classrooms get very little. You never know when you walk into a room whether it will be too cold or too hot. The staff learns to deal with it, but many get sick. The students are not allowed to wear outerwear, so you could imagine what happens when they are all too cold or too hot.

—teacher, North Bergen, N.J.


The school that I work at is understaffed, overcapacity with children, has inadequate kitchen and bathroom facilities, and is generally in ill repair. Outside we have a pigeon problem that causes bird droppings that the children are exposed to and can potentially breathe in. Our water is not properly filtered and is brown. Our cooling system is a swamp cooler and doesn't work over half the time. We do not have the money for nursing supplies or books. As a staff member, I am always ill.

—health assistant, Albuquerque, N.M.


My school has no library books or research resources for the students who attend. We share the building with another school and we unfortunately don't have access to books for the children. This school is located in the South Bronx, in the lowest socio-economic congressional district in the country. Most of the students who come to our school live in low-income public housing projects. I think that to hold a book in one's hand is something that students enjoy and need in an educated society. I also think that holding a book keeps children engaged and focused while turning the pages to see what happens next.

—speech therapist, Bronx, N.Y.


The heating system is inefficient—some areas of the building are warm, while others are cold. Students are forced to wear coats in the classroom at times. Windows are very old, leaky and not energy efficient. The carpet in our room is 35 years old and was placed over tiles. There is concern about asbestos in the flooring. Lighting is poor and outdated. However, our custodial staff does the best that they can to keep the building clean given the deteriorating conditions. Many students, teachers and staff with asthma or allergy conditions continually get sick when the school year begins and it lasts for the entire year. Consequently, school and quality instructional time are missed. We can't do our best learning or teaching when we feel so sick. I liken it to having a cold for the entire school year.

—teacher, Canastota, N.Y.


Our elementary school has a cafeteria that is too small to serve breakfast to all of the students in the morning. Kindergarten through second grade eat in the cafeteria, and third through fifth eat on the gym floor every day. The cafeteria is so old that the floor is shifted and uneven. The dishwasher is beyond repair. It has been out for at least the five years I have worked there. At times during the day while eating, I have seen rats move about. Our school is named after a World War II hero who killed more than 50 combat enemy and went on to the Pacific theater to continue serving his country. I am certain that if he were alive today, he would stand up to this attack on our children.

—school counselor, San Antonio