Promise and Potential, Meet Reality

By Allisen Fischer, Wake County Public School Teacher

It’s fall and it feels like another successful school year is under way. The kids are decked out in their new outfits with new haircuts, and their book bags are overflowing with new supplies. Did you feel the excitement in the air that last week of August? The students and teachers began the year filled with fresh optimism.

And then we teachers saw our class rosters, and the reality of the funding finagling started to hit home. When I was arranging my desks into groups of three for collaborative learning, I was really proud of my creative use of space and got really excited about a table I set up as an alternative work space. But then I totaled up my roster numbers. Whereas I am thrilled that shifting of funds has allowed for class sizes for my elementary-aged birth children to remain reasonable, I am less than thrilled by the fact that I have 195 high school students this year. I wish I never totaled up that number because I started to feel deflated before the kids even walked in the door. I respect the fact that my principal encourages us to form meaningful relationships with every single one of our students, however, I am not exactly sure how I am going to do that. I am going to try my best, but… I actually, you know, have to teach, too. There are multiple high school classrooms around Wake County alone that have 40 or more students in the class!

At my school, we are starting this year with three-fifths of our department new to our school. This means that veteran teachers such as myself are in the position of helping multiple teachers on multiple Professional Learning Teams. Finding time to meet with all of these teachers takes away from my time to make meaningful connections with my 195 students!

So, why do we teachers need to meet so much? Well, in the fun world of math in North Carolina, we find ourselves in the middle of a unique battle of “Which Curriculum Is Best?” We were teaching Algebra I, II, and Geometry, and then 4 years ago, the State haphazardly implemented the Common Core Standards, threw together a curriculum, and called the courses Common Core Math I, II, and III.

Our three-year marriage to Common Core expired, so last year, a team was assembled to re-write the math curriculum once again. So we attended some very rushed meetings this past spring getting introduced to the curriculum we would be teaching this fall (pending the approval of said NC Math Curriculum in June 2016). Teachers were also prepping for (another) summer training sessions so we could effectively teach another new curriculum. NC Math would basically shift some things around to “fix” some of the haphazardness of the previous curriculum and would also clarify the standards (which had been a huge problem previously). In prepping for NC Math, teachers were actually asked for their input via surveys!

And then, that last week of school (June 2016), the news came out that there was a bill, sponsored by Senator Jerry Tillman, stating that schools should offer BOTH NC Math as well as the “old” Algebra I, II, and Geometry pathway. We wanted to throw our hands up in the air that minute.

Do you see why, perhaps, we had to replace three-fifths of our department?? How in the world are we supposed to teach TWO DIFFERENT CURRICULUMS? (Someone, like myself, who has been around for several curriculum changes could likely handle teaching all these different courses because I HAVE taught all these different courses in the past, but come on). How can we support the needs of giving the students the option of 6 different math courses versus 3? And that doesn’t even account for honors versus academic or semester long versus all year long.

Consider the basic logistics. When I first started teaching at my school 18 years ago, we had 20 teachers in my department and the school had 1600 students. We now have 15 teachers and 2100 students. You don’t need to be a math genius to know that this just doesn’t add up. We can’t hardly teach the courses we have now.

That is why this election is so important. You and I simply cannot sit idly by and assume that the vote will go the way we want without our active participation. Please educate yourself, and others, and vote for candidates that will make education a priority. Our kids deserve better from us. Their schools shouldn’t be a revolving door of teachers, or curriculums, nor should their classrooms be as overflowing as their bookbags.

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Want to support stronger public schools but those “downballot” races are confusing? Let the teachers at Red4EdNC help! We know that the following races are the KEY to restoring per pupil funding to 2008 levels: Governor, State Superintendent, State Senate, State House, County Commissioners and School Board races.

Fill out this quick google form and just tell us your name and county. We will find YOUR ballot, make our recommendations for just those races, and TEXT it back to you before November 8th!

Why the Middle and Bottom of Your Ballot Matters Most

By Laura Lineberger, Wake County Public School Teacher

Let me start by stating that I’m a social studies teacher.  As a group, we tend to be cheerleaders of civic engagement. We hold voter registration drives, we have “current events sharing time” during class, we draw connections between historical and current issues, and we play whatever “Rock the Vote” music video is all the rage during the current election season.

Regardless of the awareness level or interest of my students about global current events, I can say that every one of them has an opinion about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. One thing I have the hardest time trying to explain, though, is the importance of local and state races. I rarely have more than a handful of students in a class who can even name our governor, let alone a single member of our General Assembly, city council, or school board. I tell them that state/local races affect their lives on a daily basis far more than the POTUS does. How?? *crickets*

How about that science class that still doesn’t have a teacher because they can’t find someone to fill the position? So you’re on your 4th sub in four days and trying to learn chemistry from 15-year-old textbooks and doing worksheets. What about that art class that you loved but that got eliminated? Or your Civics class with 42 kids crammed into a classroom that’s already barely bigger than a closet and literally cannot hold enough desks, so you end up sitting on the floor with your notebook as your “desk.” Or that AP teacher who hasn’t graded your essay yet because he has 3 preps and 215 students on his class lists. These are realities because of the decisions being made by our state/local politicians.

Now to my fellow adults. Most of us have been following the recent Presidential election (whether we choose to or because it inundates every aspect of our lives from the news cycles, to friends’ social media posts, to late-night comedy shows). But how many of us are just as closely following the races for our state and local governments? You should be! Whether you are a teacher or a parent or merely a conscientious citizen, you should be aware of what is happening to public education in this state.

Low Salaries

“But the average teacher is making over $50,000!” NO, we are not. Most aren’t even close, and those that are close are likely 25-year veterans or only making that because of county supplements, not from policies of our state government.

“But this year was the biggest pay raise percent in history!” Only because they froze pay for years, and last year was just a tiny “bonus” (they made a big deal about it in the media, then taxed it higher and since it wasn’t salary, any increase this year looks even bigger).

“But your pay was frozen under Purdue and the Dems…stop blaming Republicans!” True. Perdue put the freeze in place due to the crisis of the Great Recession hitting our state. Most of us teachers understood and believed it to be temporary. Now, the salary schedule has been dismantled for a new 5-year increment pay scale, AND thanks to inflation, I am making approximately 13% LESS money than I did when I started teaching in 2003.

Also, the average increase is largely a result of first and second year pay increases. Since they make less, the percentage increase is higher with less money actually used. Their salaries increased by double-digit percentages, while veterans saw little or no pay increase. But the “average” still looks good. It’s all smoke and mirrors, y’all!

Longevity Pay

Gone. This was an added bonus that teachers received if they remained in the field for 10 years. Keep in mind that studies show that 10% of teachers don’t come back after even one year, and as high as 50% do not make it 5 years. By the way, the loss of longevity pay gave them money to work with to give raises. So they were actually robbing Peter to pay Peter.

College Teacher Prep Programs

Not only has the General Assembly made cuts to our renowned UNC system overall, but they have also cut vital teacher prep programs. The Teaching Fellows was one of the most popular teacher prep programs in the state and became a model across the nation. Teachers could get a full 4-year scholarship if they committed to working in NC public schools for 4 years. It was actually a great investment by our state that cost very little money given the benefit. It was also a program that effectively prepared teachers for the classroom and provided support both during college and beyond. That is gone.

Other teacher prep programs have also been reduced, mostly due to decreased enrollment. It doesn’t help that our state also cut additional pay for post-graduate degrees, so what’s the incentive to become highly certified and earn a Masters? Just to show how much this reduction is happening, I spoke with someone yesterday about our mutual experiences in the MAT program at UNC (a master’s program to train high school teachers). When I went through the program in 2002-03, there were approximately 70-80 people from all subject areas…17 just in social studies. The woman I talked to just finished the program this year, and there were 6 people…total. All subjects. SIX.

Teacher Shortages

When veteran teachers begin retiring en masse (which is what the General Assembly wants because they cost more, hence veterans taking the brunt of these policy changes), there will be no trained teachers to fill those positions. Remember that science class with no teacher? That’s a true story at my school. We are already beginning to see the effects of these cuts and the overall assault on teachers and our public education system. If we don’t change things SOON, we will be facing a massive teacher shortage in our state.

Which brings me back to voting. You NEED to care about our state elections, and you NEED to vote! Whether or not you are a teacher and whether or not you have kids in the system, public education is vital to maintaining our cherished democracy. Our entire state benefits from a well-educated population, and this cannot happen while teachers and public schools are under attack. Everyone is following Trump vs. Clinton. But perhaps even more important will be McCrory vs. Cooper, Barefoot vs. Johnson, and Dollar vs. Ferrell. If you don’t know these names, please look them up (or the names of those running in your district). Please educate yourself on the candidates. It’s not just our own livelihoods at stake, it’s the future of education in this great state…we owe it to ourselves and to our children to take these races seriously and get out there and vote! (Insert Rock the Vote video here J)

Red4EdNC’s Teacher Voting Recommendations Request

Complete this quick form to receive FREE Teacher Voting Recommendations!

Want to support stronger public schools but those “downballot” races are confusing? Let the teachers at Red4EdNC help! We know that the following races are the KEY to restoring per pupil funding to 2008 levels: Governor, State Superintendent, State Senate, State House, County Commissioners and School Board races.

Fill out this quick google form and just tell us your name and county. We will find YOUR ballot, make our recommendations for just those races, and TEXT it back to you before November 8th!

NC Teachers: Are We Still Seeing (and Wearing) Red?

By Angela Scioli, Wake County Public School Teacher

You know how your Facebook feed hits you with a photo you posted from years past, causing you to reflect on how long ago something actually was?  Sometimes that helps you take stock of how far you have come from that day.  Or not.

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This picture came up:  It is from the summer of 2013, when my teacher friends and I realized that state policies regarding education had gotten all out of whack, and we needed to take action to bring change.  So I wrote this letter stating we should Wear Red 4 Ed on Wed(nesday) as a visual symbolic protest. And Red4EdNC was launched.  Since then we have started a website, written articles that circulated statewide, sold 500 t-shirts, attended protests, produced an occasional podcast, lobbied our elected leaders, and joined networks that collect data to write reports to shape policy.  I even had a documentary crew follow me around for a year, and that film is about to come out (titled Teacher of the Year).

As the movie will show, all this advocacy has taken quite a toll on us and our families, and unlike most organizations, we’d really like to quit, close up shop, and just go back to teaching.  Based on current campaign commercials, you might assume we can do just that and all is well with education in NC.  Maybe we could burn our accumulated red wardrobes in a celebratory pyre!

Not so fast.

This movement has never been about teacher pay raises, and even if it were, only 3 out of 10 NC teachers have truly received an increase in salary since 2013.  We did not become teachers for the pay.  We might get out of teaching because of inadequate pay, but pay is not what really makes us tick.

We became teachers for the students.  We want them to learn and grow.  Students are still suffering, however, because of the misguided priorities that have shaped education policy since 2013:

  • About 3,000 teacher positions and 9,000 teacher assistant positions in NC have vanished since 2011.
  • North Carolina jumped to 46th in the country in per-pupil spending from 47th in the country in 2013-14 per-pupil spending.
  • North Carolina spends 14.5% less per student than it did before the recession. That’s a bigger drop than all but six other states. (FY08 to FY15, inflation-adjusted).
  • North Carolina spends $855 less per student than it did before the recession. That’s a bigger drop than all but five other states (FY08 to FY15, inflation-adjusted).
  • In 2007-08, the state allocated just over $83 million for classroom materials, instructional supplies and equipment, according to numbers from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. During the last school year, the state allocated around $44.3 million . . . AND the state has eliminated the school supply tax holiday weekend.

This whole situation is like that last class of the day that often drives you crazy.  They test your patience, cause you to feel hopeless, and sometimes, make you want to just give up.  But no, the stakes are just too high.  These are not chess pieces on a board or widgets hitting the factory floor.  These are human souls with a story and vast potential.  And we cannot walk away from this larger fight any more than we can walk away from one our students.

So we must keep wearing Red on Wed., and we must keep writing, and speaking, and posting, AND VOTING – doing what we can, when we can, as much as we can.

Our students deserve more.  And until they get more, if the flag drops, one of us will pick it up, and all of us will keep moving.  I look forward to the day we can rest.  That day is just not yet, but it is coming.

How will you know?  When you see or smell a plume of red polyester rising up over Raleigh.  A celebratory funeral pyre of red.  I can’t wait!

Put Down the Gradebook and Vote

by Heather Dinkenor, Wake County Public School Teacher

Let me say as a precursor, I am not trying to vote shame anyone, but looking at public election records, (https://enr.ncsbe.gov/voter_search_public/) educators do not consistently cast a vote. We are agents of change, beacons of hope, role models for youth. As metaphors for many positive aspects of the future, why, why? are we educators not consistent voters, directly affecting the future?

In so many aspects of our lives as teachers, we put ourselves last: We go to school sick rather than stay at home. We use our own money to purchase classroom supplies. We give up parts of our summers for extra training. We sometimes put our own children in line behind our school children (more of them, we often think). Many educators I know (myself included) even planned pregnancy due dates around school calendars.

So on Election Day, I can hear us: Rather than going to the polls, we say, I need to grade this stack of papers. I need to attend this parent conference. I need to set up my classroom for tomorrow’s lab. I need to work out the kinks in this lesson. I need to copy these worksheets. These tasks do need to occur, but not at the expense of voting on November 8.

No doubt, if you are a veteran teacher, the current political ads on NC television exasperate you. $50,000? Where? Who? When? And if you are a new teacher, you probably do not realize the bold lie being told because you look at that number as realistic. After all, you go to college, work hard, save with the belief raises will come; so you assume $50,000 will happen.

If not part of the education sector, you might look at that $50,000 touted by some current NC legislators and think, $50,000? I made that at my first job out of school. Again, sadly, that is what NC teachers aspire to, but may not reach. The ads further fail to explain how some local school systems have kicked in a supplement, putting the burden upon local taxpayers, rather than state government, to get anywhere near that salary amount.

So back to my point: If we as educators choose not to vote, if we choose to do anything else in place of voting, we yet again put ourselves last. But this time, it is not money we sacrifice, nor a week of summer vacation, nor a day to recoup our health; it is our voice we have ransomed off with self-inflicted martyrdom. So call it vote-shaming if you will, but put down the stack of papers, shut the classroom door, and get to the poll. Because if we do not, that $50,000 salary will continue to be a lie that we ourselves helped perpetuate.

Want to Help Fight the Corrupting Influence of Big Money on Politics? Read and Share this post!

By Angela Scioli, Wake County Teacher

Teachers across NC are trying hard not to throw things at their TVs right now.  Politicians with deep pockets are running election ads that tell boldfaced (and subtle) lies.  We teachers know they are misleading the public, but we don’t have the money to buy ads about it.  Heck, it’s August and many of us have been unemployed and without a paycheck for almost three months, and we no longer get that longevity check in June, so we don’t have the money to buy much of anything.  Including supplies for our classrooms.  So, tempers and temperatures are running high.

We’ve been working social media outlets in a scattershot fashion as opportunities arise, but we need a more focused effort, a populist alternative to the TV ad.  So here it is.  We teachers are David, and big money politics is Goliath.  Here’s my rock.  I’m throwing it as hard as I can.  Will you help it gain velocity??

 

#1 They say:

The average teacher in NC earns $50,000+. 

The TRUTH:  North Carolina teachers made an average of $47,985 last school year, about $10,000 less than the average U.S. teacher, who made $58,064.  Average salaries of North Carolina public school teachers dropped 17.4% in real dollars from 2003-04 to 2013-14. Because the new salary schedule created in 2014 by the General Assembly only provides for salary adjustments once every 5 years, and only gave raises to newer teachers, only 32 percent of NC teachers received a raise last year under the budget (meaning 7 out of 10 teachers got no increase at all).

That $50,000+ number is based on a projection that assumes every veteran teacher who taught last year will continue teaching next year.  I assure you that will not happen.  Most of the veteran teachers I know are leaving as soon as possible, as we have not gotten a significant pay raise in years and we lost longevity pay.  It will be interesting to see how we replace all those teachers with the broken teacher pipeline we now have.  When the better paid vets all leave, and new lower paid replacements are hired, average teacher pay will drop, not rise.

 

#2  They say:

North Carolina is 9th in the nation for education spending. 

The TRUTH:

We are one of only a few states that puts the burden of funding public schools on the state government through the state constitution.  The rest fund schools more through local funding, which is why their local property taxes are so high compared to ours.  The above claim should read something like, “We are 9th out of 10 states that rely primarily on state funds to fund education”.  Not quite as impressive, right?

funding ranking 12-13 II

 

 

 

 

 

In case you can’t see, we are 47th in the nation in education funding, with 62% of our funding coming from the state, 25% from local sources and 13% from federal. ‘SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “National Public Education Financial Survey,” 2012-13.

 

#3:  They say:

NC is spending more than they ever have on education.

The TRUTH:  That is only because our student population has grown.  Spending per pupil has gone down 14.5% since 2008.  That’s $855 dollars less per student in real dollars.  That matters.

 

#4:  They say:

We have increased the textbook fund.  

The TRUTH:  Textbook funding was increased in 2014, after it was slashed in 2013.  The current level of funding is still less than half of what the state invested in textbooks in 2010. The textbook fund was $111 million in 2009-10.  It was $52 million last year.  I still don’t have adequate textbooks for my classroom, and my students don’t have computers.  How do I teach?  Lots and lots of copies.  Paid for by local sources.

Also (bonus fact!), North Carolina has 7,000 fewer TAs in 2015 than it did in 2008.

 

If you have gotten this far, thank you!!!  You are a soldier in a political revolution, in a way.  Now, go forth boldly and conquer – share this post!!!  NC teachers are counting on you to help our students.  The truth is out there, and trust me, it matters.

We Are Strong in Numbers; Therefore, VOTE!

By Stu Egan, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public Schools Teacher

July 13, 2016

The current General Assembly should be very scared of us public school teachers and our supporters. That’s because what had originally looked like an election year to simply resupply the NCGA with more conservatively minded demagoguery has now morphed into a debate about how our state government should serve citizens and fully fund our public schools. This GOP-controlled General Assembly and its governor have unintentionally but successfully turned the focus of November’s elections to the vitality of communities (HB3), the fair treatment of all our citizens (HB2), and the right to a quality public education (explicitly defined by Section 15, Article 1 of the NC Constitution).

North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system. And we are strong in numbers.

Those running for the General Assembly in November knew that two years ago; they just didn’t seem to care. They knew it when they attempted to buy teachers’ rights to due process for $500 million after their attempt to eliminate it was declared unconstitutional. They knew it when they froze pay scales and then offered “average” raises to cloud the truth. They knew it when they abolished the Teaching Fellows Program. They knew it when they allowed unregulated charter schools to take money earmarked for public schools. They knew it when they created Opportunity Grants. They knew it when they allowed for an Achievement School District to come to our state. They know that we are losing more continuity and stability among our teaching staffs. If this trend continues at the current pace, the turnover rates in schools will be beyond detrimental to the foundation of public education, and continue to be a signal to aspiring teachers to not even enter the profession. And this is in a state that has highly regarded college educational programs.

Considering the amount of counterproductive measures placed on our public schools today, the fact that we teachers still educate our kids to a high degree of effectiveness tells me that North Carolina’s teachers are still passionate and of merit. Teachers do not define themselves through partisan, political definitions; they define themselves by a duty to educate students and as a team of professionals working together, not individual contractors whose service is dictated by a yearly indenture.

And no acronym or initiative (NCLB, EOG, EOC, AYP, PLAN, ABC, AP, PLAN, PSAT, RttT (Race To The Top), Common Core, ASW, AMO, EVAAS, NCCLAS, NCEES, IEP’s, 504’s, PD, PEP, PDP, PLC, PLT, READY, SCOS, SIT, SIP, STEM, Title I, Title III, and Title IX) can take away the most vital component of education: the studentteacher relationship. When that teacher is respected and valued, then that teacher is more likely to stay. But we have to help ourselves and vote. We have to educate others and get them to vote.

If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It has given rise to a now all too familiar state slogan: “North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight”.

I strongly urge anyone in North Carolina who cares about public schools to vote this November. If you know anyone in North Carolina who is registered to vote, then please encourage them to do so. You are in a state where public education is under assault by the private sector posing as reformers. If our public school system is to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop.

To Smile or Not to Smile, That IS the Question

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

Alyssa Putt, Durham County Public School Teacher

June 30, 2016

I suspect the word “mugshot” is a litmus test for anyone who has ever had an incarcerated parent. From fourth to tenth grade, the only interaction I had with my biological father was typing his name into a search bar and seeing whether or not he had amassed new charges and an updated mugshot since my last search. To me, he always looked so guilty. After a while, I didn’t want to know anymore.

When the end of college neared and I began applying for teaching positions, I petitioned several data-dragging sites to remove any connection between my name and my father’s, so that potential employers and future students would not draw a parallel between us.

This is a piece of my past that I only discuss when kids trust me enough to tell me their own struggle with an incarcerated parent. I tell them that we are responsible for making our lives the lives we want to lead, for making ourselves the people we want to be, and that we are not required to carry around the painful pieces of our past any longer than to find strength in them.

Thursday morning I woke up — blistered from the march and bruised from the zip-tie cuffs — to endless text messages featuring my own mugshot. Mortification. In the months of planning and in the days of the march, it never occurred to me that I would be starting the summer with my mugshot being broadcast on television screens and shared rampantly on social media sites. I got into my car and cried.

I did not cry from shame or self pity. I did not cry because I had become something I have tried my entire life to avoid. I cried because I chose to be put into handcuffs at 26, while some of my students have already been in handcuffs by 15. I cried because I had seen children come into that jail alone. I cried because I wasn’t sure if those children were still there while I was on my way home. I cried because I know the statistics of the population served by my school, and it is inevitable that some of the children that have sat in my classroom will sit in that jail. I cried because I was being thanked for my arrest while thousands of black and brown kids are criminalized for theirs.

I cried because I wholly recognized that my arrest was privileged.

Because we got help when we asked for help. Renisha McBride did not.

Because we were told we would be under arrest if we did not comply. Tamir Rice wasn’t warned.

Because our seat belts were buckled upon my request. Freddie Gray’s was undone.

Because we were able to hold up Kristin as she ebbed in and out of consciousness. No one was there for Raynette Turner.

Because we knew we would be out before the night was over. Over a million people are still waiting.

This industrialized prison machine is vile, guys. The observed ratio of officers to prisoners was better than the ratio of teachers to students in my school. The food was more nutritious than the lunch my kids are provided daily. The facilities were better than many schools I’ve seen in rural counties. The cost of keeping one person in prison for a single year is already more than three times what we spend on a student per year in this state, but here we are, begging for educational funding in the streets. How has it come to this? Why will we spend more on incarceration than education? Why will it be easier for my kids to get a gun than a diploma?

Before the intake officer took my photo, we joked about smiles being disallowed. I asked her what she would want her kids’ teacher to look like in a mugshot. She laughed, and so did I, as she snapped the picture. I asked because I was terrified my students and their parents may see me looking solemn and think I was ashamed, or see me with a smile and think I was selfcongratulatory. I am not ashamed, but I am not congratulating myself, either, despite what my mugshot may suggest. I’m just hoping no kids are disappointed by my guilt.

This isn’t about 14 unflattering photos. This is about the fight for our kids, and how #studentsdeservemore. If you’re proud of the dozens of people who put time and effort into this thing, if you’re proud of Amy, Jessica, Kristin, Bryan, Carrol, Turquoise, Anca, Dawn, Alexa, Leah, Lisa, Donald, James, and me who went to jail for our kids, let’s work to turn this thing around. Get involved with ORGANIZE 2020, vote, attend School Board Meetings … do anything to make sure our kids get what they deserve.

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

By Stu Egan, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public School Teacher

July 11, 2016

Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

• We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.

• We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.

• We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.

• We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.

• We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation

2. Science: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding

3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

• When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.

• When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.

• When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.

• When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.

• When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.

• When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.

• When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

• Think about Medicaid not being expanded.

• Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.

• Think about the Voter ID law.

• Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.

• Think about less money per pupil in schools.

• Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund political races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.

• Think about TABOR and HB3.

• Think about HB2.

• Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

 

Published by Stu Egan in Caffeinated Rage https://caffeinatedrage.com. July 11, 2016.

We Were Arrested Together!

turq n don 3A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

By Turquoise LeJeune Parker, Durham Public Schools Teacher  & Donald Parker III, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Teacher

June 30, 2016

WIFE: Whenever I realized the action we’d been talking about for months was going to take place on June 14th and 15th, well honestly, I was actually kind of excited. Donald and I are always sharing our big and small moments with our kids. We aren’t stepping into something new. I mean, our students were guests at our wedding. So, we got up on that Tuesday morning, which was our 3-year wedding anniversary by the way, and set out to do what we always do: take care of our kids. We marched those grueling, boiling HOT and long 23 miles to the Capitol together.

HUSBAND: And man was it LONG! My feet still hurt actually but anything to support my wife and the children we teach. I was still kinda like,”DANG, why does this have to be on our anniversary though” lol. I carried that large tree branch, described by a writer as a small tree, from Durham to Raleigh not just to symbolize struggle but to show an even greater picture that if Jesus Christ can carry a cross for the sins of the world and defeat sin and death giving us access to eternal life, then I as an educator can carry some large tree branch for the burdens and struggles of our children to win over the governor, giving them access to a better, more funded education.

WIFE: It wasn’t easy. At all. But WE MADE IT! We bonded with other educators those 23 miles. We grew to love, respect and appreciate so many people we’d never met before that 23- mile journey. As we turned the corner and the North Carolina Museum of History was on our right and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our left, we chanted and screamed our affirmations for the future of our public schools. After the “All In for Public Education” rally by the General Assembly, we turned around and set out to complete our mission. This time the North Carolina Museum of History was on our left, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science was on our right. I feel like I have walked through and protested loudly right in that same corridor a million times and boy does it get you hype. It’s something about the buildings, the way sound works, being beside people fueled with passion and a strong desire to not quit until our babies get what they deserve! We took that left onto Edenton St screaming, then we took that right onto Wilmington St. shouting “We ready, we coming” (that one gets me hype too). Ever since those days, when we drive near any part of our trek, we reminisce.

Just a few weeks before that, and a few days before that very moment, we held press conferences requesting a meeting with the governor. We are teachers after all, so we know how to meet! I was ready and prepared in my mind for what I would say in our meeting. Crystal Scales Rogers, Dawn Amy Wilson and Bryan Proffitt and I looked at each other and said, “It’s game time y’all.” When we turned onto Wilmington St., I saw the doors of the Capitol still open because it wasn’t 5 pm yet. When we turned towards that main entrance, the door was being shut. We called the Governor’s aide repeatedly, went around the Capitol, and knocked on all four doors, hoping for the best. At that last door, we decided that if our kids can’t get it….SHUT IT DOWN!

HUSBAND: To be completely honest, I sat myself down while they walked around the building knocking on the doors because my foot was killing me. Then I heard the police officers’ walkie talkies going crazy saying,”They are moving to the street.” Then I got up and started walking to the street, along with the educators who marched and people who supported educators, which totaled at least 100 people.

WIFE: After the police told everyone to move to the sidewalk, 14 of us North Carolina Public School teachers unlawfully and willfully stood in the 100 Block of E Morgan Street linked arms with signs in our hands that said: “I’D RATHER BE TEACHING” and we SHUT IT DOWN!

HUSBAND: At that time, I didn’t really know what was going on when I walked up, but all I saw was my wife in the middle of the street locking arms with other educators. I later found out that the teachers standing in the street already planned to do so. I wasn’t in those plans, but playing basketball, participating in band, and being in two fraternities taught me brotherhood and teamwork. I couldn’t let down NOW my teammates and brothers and sisters I walked with for 23 miles from Durham to Raleigh for our children, stand in the street without me. As a husband, there was also no way I was letting my wife get arrested without me either, while I sat on the sidelines, clapping, pulling out my phone to record and wave her on. Man, “I’m bout that action, boss.” Marshawn Lynch style. We doin’ this together.

WIFE: Locking arms in the middle of a very busy street and refusing to move wasn’t an easy move we made. It was scary actually, very scary until the interaction with the officer began; then it felt like we were definitely doing the right thing. When the police arrested Donald, that scared me because they put real handcuffs on him. They sat him in the police van alone. I had never imagined I would see my husband being taken away from me in handcuffs.

HUSBAND: They arrested me first. “You do know you are now under arrest?” said the officer in a very Southern voice. I slowly raised my head and with my shades on, stared into his eyes. Behind those shades were eyes of a black man whose heart was torn between two dissonant choices: one, calmly supporting his wife, educators locking arms, and the children of NC suffering at the hands of poor government; and two, rising up against the cops as a black man whose eyes are gouged and ears are punctured with hate from stories of innocent blacks’ interactions with law enforcement like Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many more.

I hadn’t answered his question after about seven seconds of a silent stare, so he asked, “Are you going to resist arrest?” I responded “Yes,” but it was to his first question, and Alexa said, “He means yes to your first question.” Once I answered that, I was not resisting arrest. I gave him my bookbag and he grabbed my right arm to put behind my back. Let me just say that as peaceful protesters with a crowd of people watching, the force he used to put my arms behind my back wasn’t aggressive, but it was still painful. I could only imagine the force and effort he would have used for someone not as peaceful or if alone with just officers. What made me feel isolated, segregated and discriminated against was that out of 14 teachers, the one black male teacher was the only person they used real cuffs on to arrest. Everyone else had zip cuffs. Man, those things were tight. I hated the metal sound they made and I felt for the first time in my life that I had no freedom. While walking to the police van, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a criminal and that we just did something honorable. The policemen were not aggressive with us at all, so I walked with my head high with no shame. It’s crazy that as a black man, I go my entire life making sure I stay out of trouble that would involve the police and the one time I’m arrested, it displays one of the highest forms of altruism.

WIFE: In that moment, I began to squeeze Bryan and Leah’s hands even harder. It hurt me in a place I don’t know how to explain. Then everyone started screaming “We love you Donald! We see you Donald!” I could barely make those words out, but I thank God for hearing those words. As the police began picking the rest of us up, I cried even more. I cried because I heard Sendolo on the bullhorn saying one of Assata Shakur’s famous quotes:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love each other and support each other.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

HUSBAND: It was hard for me as a black man and a husband to be in handcuffs and see another man, a white male police officer, grab my wife. I hated it. Putting those zip cuffs on her, standing her up, etc. It pissed me off really. And this isn’t hate for another race or anything, it’s hate for corruption and for many years policemen have systematically exhibited corrupt ways towards blacks. That viewpoint doesn’t change because the cause is for our students; it’s just placed to the rear and came to the forefront as I sat detained in that police van hearing the crowd chant, “We Love You Turq.”

WIFE: But I couldn’t hear them saying “We Love you Turq.” It was like the world turned off for a few seconds. I could only hear the officer. I do, however, distinctly remember hearing Matt Hickson’s voice saying, “The Professors love you and are proud of you for this.” That made me smile and feel like this was right. Although extremely frightened about the care of my husband because of the horrible history of our men and women of color in police custody, I was so extremely proud of him. I was so happy to be taking such huge steps for our kids together. Weird, but I fell more in love with him that day. The police didn’t know we were husband and wife, but we got placed right beside each other in the police van, only separated by the plexiglass. I will never ever get the picture out of my mind looking at my husband through that glass in that police van. All for our students, our babies. They deserve more.

HUSBAND: I’ll never forget that either. The heat, the confinement, and seeing her without the freedom to touch was rough. Those real cuffs hurt too, man.

WIFE: What we did that day was for the children. What about the children? What about the babies? They were who I thought about the whole time. Who we all thought about. Who we all did this for. These children have dreams, emotions, needs and they are all being choked right now by poor elected leaders. We walked in that street, formed that line, locked hands, and eventually sat down locking arms because our kids cannot take it anymore. It’s easy to ignore this ridiculous and embarrassing situation happening in our state because it’s “grown ups” making the decisions, but really, the kids are at the center. If we reminisce for any quick moment, we didn’t get where we are as a country (even though we have so very far to go), by just standing on the sidelines and doing nothing about the basic needs and rights of our babies. We got where we are by brave men and women holding hands, singing, chanting, row by row, of what they believe to be a possibility for our country and for our future. And look, we’re living in some of what they fought for. Their circumstances were not as gentle as ours. The police officers that dealt with us on June 15th, 2016, were kind and respectful. The police during demonstrations some time ago were disrespectful, disgraceful, and degrading to say the least. But those demonstrators didn’t care. They realized that drastic situations call for drastic demonstrations. I’ve been in the classroom for going on six years, and in that short time, I have seen some things. No one can make me believe that what the 14 of us did that day was wrong. Nope, not at all.

I’ll tell you what’s wrong:

-What’s wrong is teachers having to set Go Fund Me after Donors Choose after Go Fund Me after Donors Choose just to get full sets of books, supplies, and classroom and school necessities.

-What’s wrong is the achievement school district bill.

-What’s wrong is the attempt to silence educators.

-What’s wrong is elected officials taking personal deals to benefit themselves and throwing our kids under the bus.

-What’s wrong is our kids not having enough!

On June 15th, 2016 I was ready for something beyond emails and sitting passively, I was over it. I am beyond tired of hearing the negative rhetoric around my school and schools like mine all across this great state and nation. The rhetoric says we are failing. NO! These elected officials are failing our public schools. My beloved school is NOT an F school. Mrs. Parker’s Professors’ classroom, as well as the many beautiful habitats of learning like mine, ARE NOT FAILING! We are doing the best we can for our babies with what we have. They deserve more. Remember when you were a child? Remember how much ambition, drive, excitement you had? Remember that someone invested in you? Someone told you you could be anything you wanted to be? If not for those who loved us and who cared enough to show us, where would we be today? How can we just leave our kids out to dry like this? Nope, I won’t do it.

HUSBAND: Can you imagine for a second how frustrating it would be to not have a textbook to take home or the ones you take home are 10 years old or older, ripped, missing pages and are falling apart? Now, in a different context, imagine how frustrating it would be to use a computer from 10 years ago or a phone from 10 years ago? Not the easiest task. Dr. William P. Foster, the late great band director of the Florida A&M University, once said,”Why should we provide second class resources for students and expect first class results?”

My eyes in my mugshot are saying, “I can’t believe all of this has happened to educators who just want to do their job efficiently for our children and we are punished if we fail to do so.” Don’t you think if things were the way Pat McCrory and his team are trying to make them out to be, teachers wouldn’t have to lock arms in the street protesting? And what’s most ironic, as someone said in the detention center, is that the people who are about following rules are the ones breaking them, not even for themselves but for students. Marching and protesting for the love of my wife and the many students in North Carolina was an honor and a privilege. Leading by example is something I would gladly do again because I can. As Jesse Williams said at the B.E.T. Awards, “A system built to divide, impoverish, and destroy us cannot stand if we do.” Stand for something or you’ll float with or fall for anything.

Stand for our children. Students deserve more.

#studentsdeservemore

Why I Participated in Civil Disobedience

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

by  Kristin Beller, Wake County Public School Teacher

June 30, 2016

When the officer helped me stand on my feet, after binding my hands behind my back with zip ties, my mind went blank. Friends and family who were there on the sidewalk said I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “Our students deserve more!” but I don’t actually remember what was coming out of my mouth. My last clear thought between sitting on the burning asphalt and moving towards the stuffy paddy wagon was that I could not – and would not – go into that van silently.

I had not gotten to that day, in that heat, with those people, to be silent. I had put too much time, love and energy into this day and into each day spent with my students knowing that there was no way for my colleagues and me to reasonably meet all of their needs yet never ceasing to try. I was going to keep shouting and lifting my students’ needs until the end.

When we started planning the march and rally, one of the first tasks was to decide on clear goals. The hardest part of this was narrowing all of our students’ critical needs down to a short list. When you know folks can realistically only remember 4-5 things, how do you decide which of our students’ varied and equally important needs get raised? More importantly, how do you decide which don’t? Through the discussions and negotiations around this challenge, one thing became strikingly clear to me — we can never go back.

We can never go back to just talking about teacher pay and textbooks. We can never go back to just talking about buying supplies out of our pocket or the technology that doesn’t consistently work. It doesn’t feel right to just talk about paint peeling and broken desks. Yes, those things are very important to our daily learning and teaching conditions, but we have opened the school doors and are showing the totality of the needs that exist for our students, and we can never go back.

We are lifting up the fact that many of our students are living in conditions where their basic human needs are not being met. We are asking that the Governor pay attention to the fact that our students are drinking poisoned water from their taps; that our students and their families need access to healthcare; that our students need living wages for their parents; that our students are facing discrimination every day and now he has preserved that discrimination in law.

We can never go back.

Once I reconciled the fact that our fight was for our students and the Governor’s fight was for votes, the rest became easy. We were marching for hundreds of thousands of our students, and we were rallying to raise awareness around five of their most critical needs. We were meeting with the Governor to make two simple, low-cost requests: spend the surplus on public schools and expand Medicaid now. We were not marching to talk about teachers or their pay. We were marching for our kids and their families.

I was not surprised when the Governor’s aides did not answer our phone calls. We had talked for hours over the days before the rally trying to figure out how the Governor might avoid having a public conversation with teachers who were demanding, not higher pay, but that their students’ most basic human needs be met.

I was not surprised when we walked around the Capitol building knocking on doors that remained silent and locked. I was not even surprised that they were locked well before closing time.

I was not surprised when the crowd was fired up and ready to raise their voices in unison crying out, “Spend the Surplus! Expand Medicaid! Repeal HB2!”

What did surprise me, however, was the volume of folks who crowded Morgan Street helping to stop traffic long enough for 14 people to get into the line that would be held for 30 minutes. I had believed that teachers would be rule-followers and would have been nervous or hesitant when blocking a street. And they boldly proved me wrong. They proved that when our students are at stake, we are all willing to take risks to protect them and lift them.

You see, when it comes to our students, we have this fiercely protective stance that we just assume. Our kids’ lives are threatened each day that they go without access to affordable healthcare. Their well-beings are threatened when their parents have to choose between heating their homes or paying for food because they don’t earn enough to do both. Their bodies and lives are threatened in a very real, direct way when they are criminalized based on their race, their immigration status or their gender identity — even as early as elementary school.

So standing in the middle of the street, blocking traffic with 13 of my comrades felt easy to do. It felt easy because as we shouted “It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” I thought of my student who so very brilliantly fights for his freedom each day. He fights for freedom from the pain and fear having an ill parent can cause; he fights to keep that fear from his little sister; and he fights because he has the heart and the soul of a fighter. I thought of the time he couldn’t fight anymore, and he just sobbed on my shoulder in the middle of the hallway, not caring who saw and letting me hold his fight for a little while.

When we shouted, “It is our duty to win,” I thought of my student who worked so hard this year to overcome emotional and academic barriers that have previously held him back. I thought of him telling his classroom teacher that he had anger issues and how she simply asked, “Would you like to choose something different?” instead of labeling him or allowing him to label himself. He knows it is his duty to win. He knows that winning happens with a team, and he has learned to seek out those that will help him win. I thought of his smile and his pride when he looked at me after a reading group one day and said, “You got us, right, Ms. B? You always got us.”

When we shouted, “We must love and protect one another,” I thought of my students who always led their classes to care for one another. They understood already at 9- and 10-years old that we show up for one another and take care of each other first and foremost. They were always the first to offer a hand to a friend or to step up and in when a classmate was at risk of saying or doing something they may regret. I thought about the way they celebrated and lifted other students up, already knowing that some people need a little more love. Already understanding that, in our class, everyone gets what they need.

When we shouted, “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” I thought of my student who, after the non-indictment of Michael Brown’s murderer, was so compelled to take action that she spent a recess period organizing her peers to meet during lunch and create an agenda to bring to me when asking permission to use our classroom for a meeting space. I thought about how she facilitated that meeting so smoothly, allowing each person space to share their thoughts and ideas and then distributed responsibilities and roles to her classmates. I thought of my other student who, despite her shyness, demonstrated great bravery and courage when she stood up in that same meeting to speak about her own observations and experiences with racism in the justice system (yes, at 9-years-old).

I had the faces and voices of hundreds of children running through my heart and my mind as we chanted their needs.

Our kids are under attack. What would you do if someone threatened the lives and the futures of your students?

Yes, I had a choice. I always have a choice, but when it comes to my kids…I will choose them every time. I don’t want my students to have to fight this hard for their education – for their lives. People have already fought for them. Folks have already shed blood, sweat, tears and died for their lives.

We have a duty to fight for them. We have a duty to win. Let’s lose those chains.