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By Angela Scioli, Wake County Public School Teacher
An edited version of this article appeared as an op-ed in the News and Observer on July 26, 2017. It can be accessed here.
Since 2013, I have had no textbooks (yes, that is correct: no textbooks) for my American History classes. I’ve had age- inappropriate textbooks for my Civics classes (written for 7th grade, but my students are in 12th), and my AP Government textbook was written when George W. Bush was president. Suffice it to say that politics has changed somewhat since 2006.
The resources a teacher needs vary greatly according to grade, population, discipline and teaching style. Not all teachers need the same things, even if teaching the same grade at the same school. I would actually prefer textbooks, and I realize I might have lost you right there.
Textbooks have gotten a bad rap lately as outdated, biased and inefficient. You might assume I am “old school” and boring in my instructional approach; I assure you I am not. But textbooks make sense if you consider the courses I teach: American History, Civics and Economics, and AP Government and Politics. These disciplines are “content heavy”; students need to know basic information to master the course and do higher level critical thinking activities, collaboration, and problem solving at the center of our work.
A textbook solves that problem quite nicely, even if it isn’t perfect. First, assigning reading helps with reading comprehension and fluency, allowing me to teach the skill of note-taking, an important practice in any format, digital or otherwise. A textbook doesn’t require a broadband internet connection at home; it is portable, “fixed” (so related assignments make sense), and written and edited by a cadre of professionals and experts in the field.
My second choice: computers. If I send each student home with a computer (or have them use their phones), I would need to collect and curate my own digital content for each course I teach, much of which would be video-driven. This option does not aid in reading comprehension, and there is less editorial control for bias/errors. Also, the incredible amount of time required to construct this content presents its own issue.
Like many teachers, I have tried various options to get the resources my students need. Most teachers reach into their own pockets first, but the resources I need far exceed my salary. I have funded supplementary books through Donors Choose (the GoFundMe of teaching), or gotten grants, but again, the need here is greater than those platforms typically provide. (This is why we pay taxes and collectively leverage resources for public education, the most ambitious, and expensive, public project we have ever engaged in as a collective body. It’s bigger than well-meaning charities and grant opportunities). I have attended and organized others to attend protests. I started a statewide symbolic protest movement called Red4EdNC (like us on Facebook!) and we remind people weekly to Wear Red for Ed on Wed. I have marched 23 miles with other teachers to see if the Governor would meet with us (he did not, 14 were arrested). I have developed relationships with policymakers. I have had them as guest speakers in my classes – county commissioners, school board members, my state representative, my state senator. I have visited them in their offices. The Chair of the NC House Education Committee, Craig Horn, has spent hours in my classroom and met with me for hours in his office. My elected officials know me and greet me as a friend, as well as a constituent. I have spoken at public comment opportunities at school board meetings, county commissioner meetings, and state committee meetings. I have spoken to Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs. I have had a camera crew follow me around for a year for a documentary (that can be screened here until August 2nd). In the last election, I piloted a ballot project statewide: If you sent Red4EdNC your name and address, we would research your ballot’s education-related races, and text you back an image of your ballot with our voting recommendations. Due to gerrymandering, it had little effect: our elected leaders are safe in their polarized districts.
It is four years later. The embedded chart shows you the budget, in millions, for textbooks and instructional materials. The numbers came from the DPI website here. My students still do not have the necessary resources. I have ten laptop computers that students cannot take home, and I am grateful for that (thanks, Wake County Commissioners!), but it does not solve the problem. When I ask the commissioners for (more) money, they remind me that the state constitution says the state bears the responsibility for guaranteeing each child an equitable public education. When I speak to my state senator, he says the county commissioners could raise property taxes to pay for books if they wanted. All my elected state officials say they have very little influence over the state budget. I sense just a few people actually do.
So, it’s late July, and another school year is in sight, and I still do not have the necessary resources for my students. What else can I do? Time is running out. And my students deserve better. Please state your ideas in the comments.
This post is a slightly expanded version of an op-ed article that appeared in the News and Observer on February 21, 2015. Here’s the link:
I am the product of the time in NC when we invested in our young people through public education. My grandparents were minimum wage textile workers; none enjoyed the benefit of a high school education. My parents graduated from secondary school but had to get right to work upon graduation.
By the time I was in high school, the state of NC was investing in the future. I had the most inspiring, innovative and experienced teachers in public school. They challenged me and made me hungry to be like them – their command of their subject, love of language, excitement about learning and the creativity they brought into the four walls of our classroom was infectious!
When I graduated high school, I had great grades but no college fund. Again, NC invested in me. They offered me a full scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill if I would agree to teach for four years. There was a shift in my mind’s eye – I began watching my teachers from a new perspective. As I began to think about being a teacher, it energized me like nothing else.
When I began teaching, the state of NC was still there, ever prodding me to further personal growth and improvement. There were financial incentives to get a master’s degree, and I did. There were financial incentives to get nationally board certified, and I did. Through those experiences, I honed my craft and deepened my subject knowledge; I learned that great teaching was not about what I was doing in the classroom every day. It was about what MY STUDENTS were doing.
For 22 years I have been ever evolving to better meet the needs of my students and to prepare them to be the most productive and capable generation possible.
But, NC is no longer investing in our students and our state. It is evident everywhere my students turn. They hear the dripping from the leaking windows in my trailer when it rains. They feel it in the lightness of their book bags in the first days of school as they have no textbooks to take home. In many schools, there are not even teachers in their classrooms. So many have left, and so few are preparing to enter the profession, that vacancies cannot be filled. There are no scholarships to encourage promising students to become teachers. And veteran teachers are retiring at a fast clip.
The new grading system is being used to convince the public that the public schools are “failing”. The interesting thing about the grades is that they reflect the same inequalities that I see in my classroom. Is it surprising when the student who comes from wealth and privilege achieves and the chronically poor student struggles? No. But do we slap an F on the poor student and publicly embarrass them in the media? Will that inspire that student to improve? No. You offer that child extra help and support, you encourage them, and celebrate every little success along the way to higher achievement.
That is what the state of NC should be doing for our most vulnerable students in our poorest counties. Instead, they took away 6,000 teaching positions, more than 3,000 teacher assistants, cut per pupil spending, gave us a new curriculum but no textbooks or technology, administered one standardized test and declared many of our poorest schools to be “failing”. If I graded my own students this way, providing less and less support and administering one test counting 80% of their grade, I would be, and should be, fired.
They are preparing the way for the day when they convince the public to lose faith in our public schools, and start moving their kids to charter and private schools where teachers do not have to be certified, where financial accountability is lacking, and there are profits to be made off of our children.
Public school teachers have been accused of many things in this political climate, but a desire for profit is not one of them. In fact, our teachers are the ONLY state employees in the state that no longer receive longevity pay. And based on the recent uneven pay raises for teachers, I seem to be in the one profession I know of where experience is a liability. Instead of lying about my age, I’ve started lying about my years of teaching experience.
I wonder if you can even get a young teacher to speak publicly. I at least, for now, have due process rights. I can be fired, but there has to be a reason. My colleagues with less than five years of experience now have no such assurances. They are basically seasonal employees, with no guarantee of having a job in any given year. I wonder if I started teaching today how that single fact would have affected the whole trajectory of my career. Would I have invested my blood, sweat and tears in my school the way I have? Would I have bought the shirt, jackets, shoes, socks and watch in my school’s colors? Would I have invested in my students personally, knowing I would be there for years to see them develop? Would I be planning the 20th reunion for the Class of 1995? I don’t think so.
And in that, I hope you see how drastically and fundamentally this state legislature is shifting the very foundations the future of our state is built on. It is subtle, and it is complicated to the outside observer, but I want you to hear loud and clear that we are no longer investing in our children the way we should be. And our state will be the worse for it. And that is why it has to stop. Our children are not failing, we are failing our children. Let’s stop the unfair grading and start investing in our kids, and our future, again.
Angela Scioli, Wake County Teacher for 22 years
Founder: Red 4EdNC
Here is the new trailer for the documentary, Teacher of the Year.
Looks great, right? However, in order for this movie to become a reality, we need your help. For this movie to reach its full potential, it requires professional post production work and insurance.
We ask you to support this movie and public education by this sharing this link and donating. No amount is too small, and every little bit counts. There is not much time to reach our goal (we have until February 19th, 2015), and we really want this movie to succeed so that we can spread our message about public education. Change can’t occur until we have widespread awareness, and this documentary is a crucial step of the process.
We are so grateful for all of the hard work and time that amazing people have put into this movie, and for the support of everyone in helping this movie cross the finish line. Without you, it would not be possible.
Please click on/share this link to support
Here’s a recording of the Red4EdNC-related interview WKNC 88.1 broadcast tonight on their show “Eye on the Triangle.”
Thanks to Cameren Dolecheck, Desirae Ward and all the great folks at the station for taking an interest in Red4EdNC!
Click here for download.