Open Letter from a Teacher: Teaching Demonstration in Progress
I am a high school social studies teacher in North Carolina. I wanted to be a lawyer but received a Teaching Fellows Scholarship in 1989. I decided to accept the full scholarship and teach for the required 4 years. And then I fell in love with teaching. Deeply. I have now been teaching for 20 years at Leesville Road High School. I was honored in 1994 to receive Wake County’s First Year Teacher of the Year award. In 1999, I was humbled to be the Teacher of the Year for my school. I coached and taught for seven years, then earned my master’s degree and national board certification, and then became a working mom. I tell you all this not to seem boastful, but just to establish that I am not a slacker. I had a few jaded, bitter teachers when I was a student, and I swore I would never be one. I had many more inspiring, dedicated teachers, and I think and hope my teaching has honored their legacy.
The last six years have been a challenge, largely because, while curriculum and standards and assessments have been changing, salaries have been stagnant and class sizes have risen. It felt like we were failing to build on the promising foundation that had led many teachers from other states to transfer here to teach. But, when I learned what laws had been passed this summer related to education, I felt sick. Cuts to the pre-K program, cuts to teacher assistants, elimination of the Teaching Fellows program, another year without a raise, cuts to supplies, textbooks . . . the more I learned, the sicker I became. And then, I wept. And finally, an anger began to grow inside of me. I felt foolish. What kind of idiot works tirelessly for twenty years, stressing out each day to make every lesson the best it can be, worrying about scores of kids, when what I do is not valued by the people in power?
I decided right then I would be a fool no more. No more getting up at 3:40 a.m. to grade papers so the students could get them back in a timely manner! No more getting up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings to write college recommendation letters before my (own) children awoke to distract me! No more meeting with students during my lunch and after school to remediate and retest them! I would give the state what they deserve: the minimum. I relished this thought: “I will stroll in at 6:55 a.m. on the dot. I will do what must be done to keep my job. And I will stroll out, empty-handed, at 2:48 p.m. And I won’t think of that place again. That’ll show ‘em.”
And it worked. For about two days. But, deep down, I felt unsatisfied. I thought about my students who need the tutoring, who need the recommendation letters. I thought about my principal, and I felt bad that I would disappoint him. I really like him. And I felt sad for me. I felt like the real me was dying, that a lifeless zombie was taking my place. And I had sworn I would never be that zombie teacher.
Then it occurred to me – like a flash! I will become a professional protester. I will teach as I always have, with all the same passion, embracing all the stress, despite a hostile political climate that makes that act seem irrational! I will stand in the truth that high quality public education remains the key to a vibrant democracy and an opportunity society. And that cannot be achieved without great teachers. And I REFUSE to be anything other than a great teacher. That shift felt radical, and very right, and suddenly, I felt very empowered.
And since that epiphany, my fellow teachers at my school and I have been very busy. We have designed red t-shirts that say, “Teacher Demonstration in Progress: Our students’ potential empowers us to overcome any limitations.” And we have designed one for our supporters that says, “Education Demonstration in Progress: Public Education: Make it a Priority.” We have founded a website,red4edNC.com, a Facebook Page, and a twitter feed @red4edNC.
This is where you come in. We are asking anyone who has read this letter (thank you for hanging in there!) and believes in our message to join us by “Wearing RED for public ED on WED.” Essentially, all of us who support students, public education, the betterment of our state, we wear red to show support for our protest, every Wednesday, until we see better laws passed. Wednesday is “hump day,” the day we get through because better days lie ahead. And that’s what all of us – teachers, families, students – must believe. We need patience, but we do not need silence. Silence can be misinterpreted as acceptance. And we will not accept this present state of affairs.
And, one last thing. Teaching is pretty isolating; we don’t get out during the day. When you and a number of people wear red on Wednesdays and gather together, will you take a picture and post it on a social networking site so we might see it? It would do us a world of good to see that we are, in fact, not alone, and that people out there are pulling for us. And it will let people in power see that NC citizens care about public education. Maybe that will be the start of a change of heart.
I hope to see your smiling face soon. Online. Wearing red, on Wed., for public ed. And my teaching compadres and I will keep protesting, by teaching our hearts out. Every. Single. Day. Until things get better.
Angie Panel Scioli
Teacher, Leesville Road High School