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High School Without The Teachers

As part of Assignment Detroit, is working with 11 high school students from the Detroit area. They come from all walks of life, from suburban prep schools to city schools both strong and weak. The project will illustrate the Detroit region from their point of view—what it's like to live there now, and whether the area has a place in their future or not. Today's post is from Taylor Trammell, a senior at Mumford High School in Detroit.

Detroit Public Schools have been rushing to close a budget deficit of more than $200 million. This has meant closing dozens of schools and forcing scores of teachers into early retirement. This has meant teacher-less classes and interrupted educations.

My high school, Mumford, has more than 2,000 students. This year, the administrative staff was replaced, we gained some new teachers, and we are losing others. Eight teachers are retiring this year amid the chaos within the school and the system. (Read TIME's profile of Detroit Public Schools chief Robert Bobb.)

As of Jan. 29, two teachers had already retired. And on that day, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, 19 teachers out of 91 were absent. A school counselor told me that the Board of Education would not send that many substitutes to Mumford, and that counselors had to cover for them. Students who did not have teachers that day were sent to the auditorium.

There, students were divided up by classes. Some students listened to music. Others talked to each other or tried to talk on cell phones. Counselors watched to make sure students remained seated. The air roared with conversation. Some students decided not to go to the auditorium and either played around in the hallways or left school.

I was one of the students in the auditorium. I tried to do work for my other classes, but with the noise swirling around me, I couldn't get anything done. It was a waste of my time. And it is worse for students who have teachers for longer periods of time. Without teachers, school becomes simply a social gathering and a waste of educational time.

According to senior Laniesha Evans, one of her classes fell victim to this chaos: “My business law teacher left, and I was never told her reason for leaving. As soon as she left, a substitute teacher was assigned for a semester. I feel like that semester of this class was wasted. I was not taught anything until I finally received a business law teacher. While I'm now benefitting from this class, I feel like I am behind.” (See TIME's video interview with Detroit Public Schools chief Robert Bobb.)

Why are some teachers retiring or not coming to school? One reason may be that, to reduce the deficit, Detroit Schools told teachers to defer $5,000 in pay for each of the next two years. Many teachers feel that they are being forced out. Some just cannot take any more.

For some students, it may be fun to walk the halls or spend some days in the auditorium, but we will not be fully prepared for college. What these students and the district need to understand is that interrupting our education hurts us. This is the time to acquire the knowledge for success in college.  If the basic skills are not acquired by high school, there will be trouble ahead for us. (See TIME's slideshow of Detroit public school children.)

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