To the editor:
May 1 is gone, but certainly not forgotten. Now is the time for reaction, reflection, and even criticism — by all interested parties.
Educator participants naturally feel their efforts were heartfelt, genuine, and above all, necessary. The target audience, the N.C. General Assembly, has varying opinions that, not surprisingly, run along party lines. As for the general public, the verdict is still out; thus the mad rush by educators and legislators to convince the public which side to believe.
As a veteran educator and rally participant, it saddens me that two sides even exist. Both educators and our lawmakers are obligated to provide the children of this state with a free, sound education. It would seem we are on the same team, right? So what exactly is the problem? I could write for days on specific budget details which motivated teachers to march in Raleigh, but for now, let’s focus on what I hope the reader will take away from this latest march and rally.
On the night of the rally, Will Toler wrote an excellent article for The Richmond Observer which outlined the objectives of the march and rally, so I won’t list them again in detail. If you missed it, here is the link, and I encourage you to read it.
In general, the goal was to show how desperately educators need more funding for our schools — funding for more critical school personnel like counselors and social workers, more resources, better salaries, better health care for our children. I would ask the reader to remember that those at the rally are the ones “in the trenches,” as they say.
Every single day, we see the needs of our kids and see the lack of resources and support personnel to help them. We see how the ridiculous amount (and cost) of testing adds health-threatening pressure and anxiety, demoralizing both students and teachers. Think back to when you were in school. Do you remember even a fraction of the societal problems we face today? And because we have the state’s children captive in our schools, it has become the job of the schools to deal with the effects of nearly every issue. That means we need far greater funding and resources then ever before to deal with these problems.
The leaders in the NCGA insist they give us plenty. Believe me, if things were fine, teachers wouldn’t be leaving N.C. in increasingly alarming numbers. Teachers wouldn’t earn a four-year degree so they can answer their calling to teach, only to give up after a few years because they cannot handle the stress, the pressure, the salary, the state mandates, or the lack of support and respect for our profession. If things were fine, teachers would not take one of their two personal days and pay $50 for a sub to go walk for miles in the blazing heat (or in the pouring rain like last year!)
Please trust the teachers on this one. They are the experts; the suits sitting in Raleigh are not. Our knowledge of what’s really going on, and perhaps more importantly, our passion for our students and our profession, compelled us to desperately try to convince our lawmakers and the public that we need help. Of course, some of our legislators would have you believe otherwise.
In previous years, leaders in the GA simply tried to portray teachers as whiny, greedy malcontents, suggesting we were merely agents of the Democratic Party (which indicates which party is proving to be more foe than friend to education. Just for the record — this teacher was a registered Republican until they began their assault on public education. I am now Unaffiliated.).
Now we are apparently potentially sinister activists promoting socialism and are anti-establishment. (A NCGA staffer actually posted pictures on her Facebook page of a single, random marcher with a (“F*** the Police” T-shirt and wondered if NCAE, an educators’ advocacy group, was promoting a pro-socialist, anti-police rally.). They have suggested that wearing red may indicate our true intentions — since everyone knows that red means communist, right? Of course, red is also the color of apples, that subversive rebel fruit associated for generations with teachers. And red rhymes with Ed — as in “Red4Ed,” our slogan. More Dr. Suess than Karl Marx, don’t you think? Of course, the color red is also associated with the Republican Party, as in red state, blue state. Perhaps they should draft a bill to choose a less suspicious color for their party. (Maybe green, for big money. Oh, wait — green is taken. I’ll keep pondering that one.)
They have stated that teachers did not really come to speak with their legislators and few made appointments to do so. FYI: as we entered the legislative building, one party (the red one), who knew when we would be there, called a caucus meeting and placed big, color-printed project boards on easels at their offices doors stating, “FACT: N.C. teachers have received raises five years in a row.”
I suppose we should have expected it, as they did the same thing last year. This tactic isn’t exactly welcoming, nor is it conducive to open, frank discussion about our education funding concerns. It is even more insulting because, unlike the general public, we know that not every teacher received these raises. We know that a 15-year teacher makes only $167 less than a 30-year teacher, but will work 10 years before they finally receive another raise — that extra $167. Naturally, they don’t put that on the campaign commercials!
Finally, they seem terribly concerned that the rally was called on May 1, which is International Workers Day. Sure, this day is celebrated by socialists and communists globally because the exploitation of workers is the basis of those ideologies. But it is also celebrated and was started in America by labor unions (as was Labor Day, and don’t we all love Labor Day?) I assure the readers that these teachers are not closet communists, seeking to overthrow the government. We were rallying to benefit your children, your community schools, and the future of the teaching profession. We were rallying to make the public aware of the crucial needs that are not being met because of the lack of funding by those in power.
For elected officials to try to paint our teachers in this manner speaks volumes about their lack of respect for what we do every day for the children of N.C. The fact that they continue to increase funding for private school vouchers and for-profit charter schools while cutting resources to traditional public schools speaks volumes. Actions still speak louder than words, don’t they?
A dear friend and colleague, former Latin teacher Robert Graves, reminded me at the rally that “Mayday,” the international distress call, originated from the French word “m’aider,” meaning “help me.”
How perfectly fitting — public schools are in distress and need help! Two years in a row, teachers took to the streets, pleading for help. Trust me when I say we would much rather have been with our students in the classroom. But the needs are are. The fight is real. And if teachers don’t advocate for our children, who will?
The public must now decide whom to believe — the teachers who are crying “Mayday” as they struggle to meet the needs of public education, or the lawmakers who, despite their misleading rhetoric, are forcing us to struggle.