The North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh (source)
On May 16th, teachers across North Carolina will join a growing national trend: they will protest low statewide teacher pay and lack of adequate resources in public schools by not reporting to work.
In Raleigh, the North Carolina Association of Educators has plans for a day full of advocacy. Their event, a “March for Students and Rally for Respect”, has gained traction on Facebook. As of May 14th, over four thousand had RSVPed to attend and several thousand more marked themselves as interested. Mark Jewell, president of the Association of Educators, said the number of teachers attending could reach as high as 15,000. The planned day of absence has impacted many of North Carolina’s school districts. Raleigh’s News & Observer reported at least 38 school districts closing on May 16th, including Wake County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and the rest of the state’s largest 15. Over one million students across North Carolina will be affected by the closings.
East Chapel Hill High School, one of thousands of schools in the state that will be closed Wednesday in anticipation of mass teacher absences (source)
The frustrations felt by teachers extend to potential instructors as well. It is no secret that low teacher salaries and untenable working conditions are two consistent deterrents to future educators. Ann Mariah Burton, a current student at UNC-Chapel Hill, sympathizes with public school teachers. “Teachers deserve so much more than they get paid currently,” she said emphatically. As a Freedom School teacher last summer, Ann Mariah had the opportunity to work directly in the classroom and get a taste of public instruction from an educator’s perspective. She reflected on her experience: “I spent six weeks with my students. I spent every hour of my day working with them and every hour outside of class thinking of them and what they needed. The low pay, lack of respect, and the endurance needed for the job all turned me away [from the profession], sadly”. She noted that her love for her students was impeded by the prospect of an unsustainable career; the drawbacks of the profession seemed to far outweigh the benefits.
The current North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mark Johnson, is not in support of the teacher walkout. He revealed his position on Twitter in advance of the planned walkouts: “I am absolutely in support of teachers, but I do not plan to attend a protest on a school day”.
Johnson’s predecessor, Dr. June Atkinson, offered a more thorough viewpoint: “All North Carolina citizens benefit from quality public education available for each child. As one who has visited each school district in the state, I have seen old textbooks, supplies bought with teachers’ personal funds, and teachers who want to improve their skills without a dime available for professional development. I have witnessed first-hand teachers’ sadness and frustration about the lack of social workers, nurses, counselors, and psychologists to help students.”
Atkinson’s concerns about the lack of school networks reveal a problem that stretches beyond teacher pay. Teachers who are not given professional salaries also lack the support they need to succeed with students. No classroom is an island; each teacher in each room works within a larger scholastic ecosystem. Administration, nurses, principals, and many others work with teachers to enhance their instruction. This support moves up the education chain and even includes the leadership of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Still, this structure is certainly accompanied by professional pressure, which teachers may struggle to balance with supporting their students and the demands of teaching. Atkinson, like others, is optimistic that the rally in Raleigh will bring wider concern for North Carolina teachers’ trials: “[The rallies on] May 16th will help bring to the forefront that teachers are in Raleigh to support their students having quality educational opportunities with adequate funding”.
Indeed, the “March for Students and Rally for Respect” is an interesting title. It is carefully phrased to remind attendees why teachers are striking in the first place: they are the caretakers and advocates for North Carolina’s youngest citizens. Children within public school systems deserve teachers with adequate support. With this network, these students can receive the quality education that they deserve. North Carolina will not be at the forefront of public instruction until teachers are treated as professionals — and paid accordingly.