Today is the first day of your short session. It was adjourned, as I have read it, within 30 minutes of its call to order. This, with approximately 20,000 North Carolina teachers on your doorstep.
We expect more from our lawmakers, just as we expect more from our students. As educators, we are responsible for shaping the future and even, it would seem, saving our democracy. Every day, we share our passions and our hopes with and for our students: You can succeed if you are committed. You are better than this. You can do more than what is expected of you. You can be someone’s hero, a listening ear, an advocate for the less fortunate.
Perhaps some lawmakers need to come to our schools and relearn these messages yourselves. Perhaps some of you need to listen better to your fellow legislators who have long sounded the alarm. In the meantime, here’s a ten second vocabulary lesson: The root word “un” means “not.” The root word “under” is defined as “at a point or position lower or further down than.” For well over a decade, we have faced underfunded schools, unfunded mandates, underserved students, unequal working conditions, and underpaid teachers. Are these truly the ideals we want at the root of education in our state?
We see some of you suddenly rushing to defend your positions, even going so far as to pat yourselves on the back. Senator and President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, for instance, did more tweeting in the seven hours of the teacher Rally for Respect in Raleigh than he did in the previous seven days combined, telling us that we are paid plenty well enough with more on the way, showing his “support” for teachers via thinly veiled gaslighting tactics. How can we not see how generous our benevolent republican-led legislature has been? Senator Berger, there are math teachers among us who are who are happy to give you a lesson on skewed numbers, English teachers happy to debate the ethics of lies of omission, and elementary school teachers happy to talk with you about treating everyone fairly.
We can do better. We must do better. Our children are watching. And our body of lawmakers is showing them that tax cuts are more important than textbooks, corporations are more important than convictions, and politics are more important than pedagogy.
We teachers do not always see eye to eye. We do not always get along with each other. However, you should know that despite that, most of us see our colleagues as family, and when push comes to shove, we have each other’s backs. This is imperative because educating children, tweens, teens, and young adults is hard. Students are human beings — complete with gifts, flaws, emotions, problems, dreams, hopes, and fears – not political footballs. May is particularly tough in North Carolina, what with mandated assessments and standardized testing in every grade level, unreliable HVAC systems in aging buildings, and thunderstorms during the school day (many kids, even older ones, are terrified of thunder. Did you know that?), and students who are simultaneously excited for and dreading summer. You see, for many of them, school is a refuge from poverty, hunger, and fear – but that is a topic for another day.
But when you mess with our students, you mess with us. We tell our students to shoot for the moon, but teachers right now are really just aiming for the ceilings (many cracked and leaking, by the way). Yes, we want long-term reform, but in the short-term, we will settle for restoration – to pre-recession levels of per-pupil spending, master’s pay, funding for support personnel, longevity pay, health insurance benefits for future retirees who have served twenty years or more, and an inflation-adjusted competitive salary scale. You know, the things some of you forget to mention when you talk about how good teachers have it in our state.
Some of you chose to close the door on teachers today, not just the tens of thousands on your doorstep, but the roughly 100,000 teachers across the state who came out on their “day off” to support our schools and our students and who believe, and teach, that when a door closes, a window opens.