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Teacher Evaluation and Veteran Teachers:  Reality and Potential

Part I:  Reality – What Teacher Evaluation Is Like Now for Veteran Teachers

By Angie Scioli, Wake County Teacher

It’s May, and I can’t seem to get my feet to move fast enough down the hall for all I have to get done.  I’ve been up grading since 3:30, have taught first period, and now I have 70 minutes of planning to take a bite off my to-do list.  I run into Ms. Moore, one of our assistant principals, in the hall.  Based on her raincoat, looks like she’s been chasing class cutters smoking in the woods again.

“Hey,” she says, gesturing my direction, “We need to schedule your summative evaluation.  Wanna wait until after graduation?  I know it’s a crazy time.  But I’ve got 35 to do, so I need to get started on the bulk of them.”

I do a quick mental calculation and agree I should be one of her last.

“Ok”, she says, “but hey, send me some stuff.  I know you are doing great stuff with current events, and that letter writing project, and executive teaming and collaboration.  Wanna make sure I give credit where it is due.”

“Will do, “I nod.  As I walk away, though, I think about the coming weeks.  Need to write that last unit test, and email the special ed teachers about separate settings modifications for it.  I have NC Final Exam training, graduation committee meetings, and I need to create that exam review.  I have a pile of papers to grade and makeup work is flooding in.  And I must touch base with parents of students that might fail my class and not graduate.   My heart races at that last thought.

I resign myself to the fact that I probably won’t get around to emailing Ms. Moore anything, and like years before, we will have an awkward summative evaluation meeting, again.  She has done two brief classroom observations this year, and it is evident when I finally look at my summative form that she has paid close attention and wracked her brain to consider what she has seen so she can rate me as highly as possible on the many categories.  But even the greatest lesson couldn’t possible demonstrate mastery of every standard.  And so her initial rating will probably underestimate my true ability.

That’s why she needs me to send her artifacts and data that will round out the picture.  But the truth always comes down to this:  she cares more about my form than I do.  She wants me to know that she respects my work and appreciates what I do, but she is bound to only record what she observed in the relatively few moments she was in my room.  There’s just not an incentive for me to spend hours pulling together a portfolio when I have so many other tasks competing for my time.  And who sees my evaluation form anyways?  A good or bad evaluation has no impact on my pay, advancement, hours or supervision assignments.  That’s a good thing, because it would be unfair to make the instrument so consequential when it is based on so few observations.  She would like to observe more- all the administrators would- but with 35 in her caseload, plus supervising 2500 students all day and dealing with discipline and twenty other areas of oversight, that’s just not possible.

While I’m glad she likes what she sees in my classroom, her classroom teaching days are over.  More than wanting to impress the administration, I would like to be an agent of change, a catalyst to evolve the profession and instructional practice in other classrooms.  But the current evaluation system provides none of those opportunities.

And so each May, we leave that evaluation meeting feeling a bit deflated.  She feels bad that it isn’t a better reflection of my practice, and I feel bad that I care so little about that fact, and I continue to feel isolated in my “silo-ed” classroom.  Another lost opportunity.

Part II.  How We Could Leverage the Current Teacher Evaluation System to Create Advanced Roles for Teachers and Inspire Professional Learning

It’s May and I’m feeling the usual heat the month brings, both in the weather and in my profession.  But there’s something different; I’m really excited about the professional development I have been a part of this year, and I can’t wait for Ms. Moore to see what my summative narrative report demonstrates.

It started in January of last year when our principal informed us we had been selected to participate in the pilot.  Those of us who met the requirements- at least five years of teaching and being rated “accomplished” on most standards – applied to be master teachers and I was selected and recognized along with a dozen or so other colleagues.  The master teachers declared which standards on the evaluation instrument we particularly specialize in, and we announced that our classrooms are open for all visitors and observers.   It’s been fun to welcome guests into my classroom and has helped me stay sharp, knowing at any time I may be expected to model best practices.

Administrators still pop in when they like, but so do lots of others.  They follow my blog on the shared directory where I explain what aspect of my practice I am focusing on this year, what changes I am making, and how I am gathering data to assess the effects.  It’s fun to write professionally, reflect on my practice, and know that I have an authentic audience that might consult my blog, come see me teach, and replicate some of the things I am doing in a way that meets their specific professional or students’ needs.

I’ve also been assigned a cohort of teachers to lead in doing learning rounds.  We are provided two professional development days each year to do learning rounds, and we also meet in the afternoons to identify areas for improvement, strategize about which classrooms we should go see, catch up on the blogs of those prospective teachers, and share our challenges and accomplishments.  There are so many cross curricular and disciplinary conversations going on every day now, and I’m learning so many great strategies even as I am sharing mine.  Our faculty has a growing collective understanding of many different aspects of our school, its culture, and what it is like to be a student in our school.  We also have a growing respect for each other as accomplished professionals, and we all seek to be held in high regard as a result.  In short, we are inspired and seek to inspire.

Being recognized as a master teacher has improved my attitude, provided new challenges as I work with my colleagues, and has given me an opportunity to be more reflective in a consistent and public way.  I’m energized and can’t wait to share with Ms. Moore my blog, the progress I have seen in my students, my insights about my assigned cohort, and my ideas for next year.  I think Ms. Moore is excited that the evaluation form is a springboard to a much richer conversation about teaching and learning, and one that is less dependent on her as the sole authority on my practice.

Part III.  An Afterword.

I am aware that there are multiple pilots of advanced teaching models in progress.  As a Hope Street Fellow, I was able to observe Charlotte’s Opportunity Culture Model, learn more about Project Advance in Chapel Hill, and study the other models in detail.  I also served on Wake County’s committee to develop advanced teacher roles. I know none of the pilots employ the specific elements I have outlined above (learning rounds, release time and teacher-led cohorts), and I wish they did.

This pilot program principles is built upon the following basic realities:

  • The current evaluation system has little utility for accomplished veteran teachers.
  • That lack of utility is a huge missed opportunity.
  • The current evaluation system is creating an untenable administrative and managerial burden for our school administrators.
  • There are ways we could adapt the usage of the current teacher evaluation instrument to better serve the needs of teachers and encourage greater innovation in instructional practice.
  • Those adaptations could be done relatively quickly and without great expense, but any reform will fail if it does not provide some time away from teaching for observation, reflection and planning.

It is my hope that with your interest and support, we can consider how to leverage the expertise of our most accomplished veteran teachers to inspire professional learning and instructional innovation in all our schools in NC.

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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

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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!

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 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.

No Chicken Soup for the Soul

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 Anca Stefan, Durham Public Schools Teacher

June 30, 2016

They picked me up last.

They tied my wrists together behind my back, and scooped me up by the elbows.

When I was a child, I’d seen my grandmother pick up hens that way, gathering their wings into one hand, with speed and force, before she made them into soup for dinner.

There was no more space in the two vans they’d sent for us, so they pushed me into a separate police car by myself. My crime was that, along with 13 other educators from all across the state, I’d formed a human chain that, for 20 minutes at rush hour, cut diagonally through the intersection of Wilmington and Fayetteville Streets, in front of Governor McCrory’s office.

When the governor, again, failed to prioritize my students’ suffering, I blocked traffic in protest.

When, despite a well-publicized request, our governor disrespected our profession by refusing to meet with leading educators in a civil dialogue about the wellbeing of our state’s children, I stood in protest.

I stood in protest of the neglect Governor McCrory has continuously shown our children. Repeatedly refusing to address kids’ most urgent needs, and returning, unbothered, to campaigning for another term in office, was an unconscionable reality to me – so I refused to move.

I didn’t start in that intersection. Over the past 4 years, I’d spoken out many times about the alarming conditions my students have to fight their way through in order to learn. When I say our schools lack basic supplies, I mean paper – both printing paper and toilet paper – , whiteboard markers, working computers, science lab materials, equipment for art or gym class.

We don’t have textbooks in history class.

We don’t have textbooks in history class.

We don’t have textbooks in history class.

I’ve taught World and U.S. history without a textbook for the past 4 years.

My students can only receive medical care if they get injured Tuesday morning between 9 and 12 because we have a part time nurse.

My students need school counselors and psychologists to teach them how to process their emotions in healthy ways during the overwhelming time of their adolescence; they don’t need armed guards in uniform to throw them around and dehumanize them.

A week before the day Mr. McCrory had me arrested, I’d spoken to the press about the suffering of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of our students. I’d listed conditions of abject poverty, and of continued loss of resources, stability and security in the daily lives of our youth.

Alongside many other professional educators in my state, I’d asked for an hour of the Governor’s time, and promised that we’d march on foot from our classrooms to his office to prove our dedication to meeting with him and working together in the interest of our students.

We did exactly as promised.

60-some people of all ages, from all over North Carolina, took to walking along highways, in the high heat of mid-June, to meet with our Governor.

I walked next to incredible people – law-abiding, polite, compassionate educators and parents.

I walked beside a 23-year classroom veteran teacher.

I walked with a 14-year old former student.

I walked next to a dear colleague and her 12-year old son who marched every single mile his mother and his teachers marched and never once complained.

I walked beside many people who are so important in the lives of many younger folks, and I carried with me the names and memories of many of my students.

Along the way, cars stopped to thank us, churches opened their doors and blessed us with good food and beds overnight, friends called, emailed or texted us with words of support and gratitude.

None of that support and none of the richness we carried with us mattered to Governor McCrory at 5 on Wednesday. He didn’t come. He didn’t invite us in for a glass of water the way Southern hospitality would have anyone treat people who have journeyed on foot for 23 miles in the summer heat.

Instead, Mr. McCrory locked his doors before 5. We know because we knocked on every single one.

When they put me in the arrest car, my body was shaking.

I felt guilty for being nervous because, unlike so many others, I had a team — my child was cared for and safe, and they had not used force to subdue my body or spirit.

But I could not stop shaking. I could not stop my handcuffs from cutting into my twisted wrists. I could not stop from feeling like my existence was only a subject of good fortune — not a guarantee, not a right.

I felt the way I do at takeoff on a plane – that no matter my accomplishments, my intentions, my talents, the only thing that matters is gravity: if we fall, we fall, and there’s no defending against it, there’s no argument to be made for my life.

Inside the jail I was first to go through fingerprinting and searches.

The officer who processed me said that what I’d done sounded like the noblest thing anyone’s been arrested for. The officer next to him whispered that his mother and sister were both teachers, and he thanked me in their name. I teach their kids. We love the same people. And here we were, forced to stand on opposing sides of a wall, all of us feeling none of this was just.

I sat down next to two girls. They were my students’ ages. At 16 and 17, they had just finished their sophomore and junior years in high school, and they could’ve been my students.

We talked and they thanked us for standing up for them.

They were scared. They were alone. They’d been picked up for something stupid, they said, for something they were embarrassed to tell me about. They were humble and sweet, honest and young.

I asked them if they felt they had everything they needed to learn in their schools. One of them laughed at the question, the other hung her head, shaking it softly in resignation.

They told me how they can’t study at home because there are no textbooks, and they don’t have wi-fi. They told me how their teachers point them to the public library, but how nobody seemed to understand they didn’t have reliable transportation.

That’s why I’d gotten arrested – because these kids didn’t belong here. Because they were only here for being poor and Black in a state where their existence is only a subject of good fortune – not a guarantee, not a right. Their lives were being attacked, and they were being punished for believing what they’d been taught – that they didn’t matter, that they didn’t deserve. They had been given no chance to defend their lives, no chance to argue for the value of their lives.

They had been scooped up by the tips of their wings, with haste and force, and they’d been thrown into this place, to be made into nothing.

I saw them again, on my way to the the magistrate’s office in the jail. They were sitting next to each other, more tired and colder now, alone in that freezing room with metal benches, hungry and scared of being abandoned, unable to reach anyone who could come free them. I felt so helpless and so angry at my helplessness. These were my students, my kids, and I would block 100 intersections to get them the warmth and food and books that they deserve.

Why, Governor McCrory – why is it so controversial to argue that #StudentsDeserveMore ? Why do you paint us as dangerous when the only thing we want to do is teach our students so that they can learn?

What We Should Prioritize

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 Bryan Proffitt, Durham Public Schools Teacher, President of Durham Association of Educators

June 23, 2016

My mama had to see my mugshot. It was hard on her. I imagine that one of the most basic hopes a mother has is the one where she never has to see her son’s mugshot. And if she does have to, I imagine she hopes her son looks a little less upset.

I thought about her when they took it. I thought about her and I thought about all of the people who would undoubtedly see it: My former students would see it. My educator colleagues would see it. Thousands of people I’ll never know would see it on the internet and TV.

I thought about all of those folks, and I thought about smiling. After all, I wasn’t struggling with what I had done. I had just been arrested because the Governor of the state I live in is committed to prioritizing:

• Ensuring that wealthy people get to keep more of their wealth

• Enabling corporations to poison our environment

• Legislating discrimination and the criminalization of human beings

• Privatizing our schools

 

And I believe that he should be prioritizing

• Fully funded schools

• A living wage for everyone

• Health care for all

• Clean air and water

• An end to the criminalization of and discrimination against my students, co-workers, friends, and family

I marched two days in the North Carolina summer heat to go see this Governor about what he’s doing to my kids and their communities and make some demands. I marched over 20 miles to meet the man who was denying my people what they deserve.

He refused to meet with us. He refuses to recognize the crisis our state’s young people are in. I, along with some of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know, sat down in the streets to say that we’d had enough and that people needed to be woken up a bit.

I wasn’t struggling with my decision. Nope.

I also wasn’t struggling because of poor treatment. Most of the police officers we dealt with were professional and courteous. Some of them reminded me of a few of the School Resource Officers I have known and respected, and the internal contradictions they must wrestle with every day, as my co-arrestee and friend Dawn (who used to be a police officer) shared with us. Others were unnecessarily rude and provocative, but they were the exception. Many of them expressed sympathy and support for our fight (their kids, after all, are in our classrooms every day). I have no doubt that my profession, my whiteness, my cisgendered straightness, and my relative class privilege shielded me from the dehumanizing treatment that many of my students know all too well. So it wasn’t that. I had a team of folks in there with me. I had a team of folks holding me down on the outside.

I wasn’t overly concerned about my well-being.

A smile might have allowed for more effective communications strategies later. The reason I couldn’t muster it, however, is the same exact reason that I was in there in the first place.

As they loaded us into a police van, I could hear Freddie Gray’s body banging around in my head.

As we got to the station, I watched a 16-year-old who could have been any kid I ever taught being taken out of a police car, alone and scared.

As I watched my co-conspirators be taken into search rooms, I thought about the vicious sexual assault that NYPD officers committed against Abner Louima.

As I watched my friend Carrol, who needs a cane to get around, be asked to walk across a room on her own with no support until one of her team stepped in to provide it or demanded that the police do it, I thought about what it must be like to be there alone and have health problems.

As I watched my comrade Kristin nearly pass out until she got access to her inhaler, I thought about my former co-worker Vicki’s son, and how he died in jail because he couldn’t get medical attention.

As I talked with the funny kid who connected with everybody in there and reminded Woody, Donald and myself of a kid we have in at least every class, I thought about the tragedy of wasted potential.

As I sat in rooms filled with people, Black, Brown, and/or poor, I thought about:

• How my students Kaaylon and Jaronte probably would have landed here had they not been murdered.

• How the people who murdered them have probably landed there or will, or won’t get that far. And how they had been somebody’s students too. And how I have students who have murdered people.

• The time when J tried to stop a fight in my room, got mixed up with a cop, assaulted by said cop, and then taken off to jail for a case that he could never win if he tried.

• How I used to look at the daily mug shot reports in the online versions of the local paper, but I had to stop because seeing my kids’ photos every day became less grounding and sobering and more depressing and angering.

• My first week at Hillside when a fight I had broken up on my own between two girls ended with a 15-year-old screaming, bawling, and handcuffed through a face-full of pepper spray.

Jail wasn’t particularly hard on me. But it felt particularly hard to be in a place that eats up the lives of millions of Black, Brown, and/or poor people, many of whom I know and love. My body felt heavy with the pain and alienation of living in a society that says that some people get to have stuff, but most people don’t. Some people get to live good lives, but most people won’t. And some folks, who never had a shot from the beginning, will be warehoused for their whole lives because the people who run our society can’t imagine any function for most of us rather than the generation of profit for them. If you’re not doing that, they have to hold you somewhere and dehumanize you and contain you so that you won’t revolt.

So jail sucks. Or, rather, jails suck.

How about, instead of building more of them, we just give our kids the food, the shelter, the clothes, the nurses and doctors and counselors, the fun and laughs, the safety and knowledge, the skills, love, and opportunities to wonder and wander and learn self discipline that they deserve?

We have to win y’all. We just have to.

#educationnotincarceration #studentsdeservemore

P.S. We don’t win on one day y’all; this is slow organizing and long-term strategy and work. Please support the work of the Organize 2020 Caucus of NCAE by checking out this link and a) getting on our listserv, b) joining the caucus, and/or c) contributing financial resources.

Public Education: Is it the Great Equalizer?

Jessica Benton, Wake County Public School Teacher

June 18, 2016

When I first started teaching, I was under the impression that public education was the great equalizer. That with a sound education, my students had more choices about how they wanted their lives to play out. All they needed was to stay focused and learn, and the world would be theirs. After 11 years in the public school system, I began to realize that wasn’t that simple.

Some schools had more because the folks living in those neighborhoods had more. Some kids had more because their families had more. Some families had more because the world we live in thinks that they are entitled to more. It began to dawn on me just how unequal our equalizer really was.

We have been saying it over and over. Our students deserve more, but what does that really mean? We have to understand that our students’ lives don’t end at the classroom door.

Some of our kids are not getting what they need when they leave our school buildings. Their parents are working multiple jobs just to get by, so that means less time helping with homework and projects and catch up. Some of my kids are not receiving the healthcare they need, and they literally stay sick from October to March. My kids of color live in a world that criminalizes them and their families based on the color of their skin, even in 2016. Some of our kids are even being yanked from school bus stops and detained because of their immigration status. Some of our kids are being subjected to highly polluted air and water because the poverty they’re living in doesn’t protect them from toxic living environments. And y’all, 49 people were just massacred in Orlando, FL because of their sexuality. And I am not talking pie charts and statistics here. I am talking about real people and real stories.

So when we say students deserve more we’re really saying that it is going to take more than just education to get our kids where they need to be to live self-directed, fulfilling lives. Lives that they deserve like any other. They need healthcare, protection from criminalization, clean water and air, economic stability and education. And it’s going to take all of us, including Governor McCrory and the General Assembly, to get our kids these truly basic needs.

And I am sorry. I know teachers are not paid nearly enough to make it themselves. I know our teachers deserve more too, but just talking about teacher pay raises isn’t enough. That’s only one piece in a much larger problem. We need to be demanding more for ourselves and our families. We are a team. We are that village we so often like to refer to that’s raising these kids. And our students deserve more.

I just marched from Durham to Raleigh with over 50 educators, parents and students. Twenty miles over two days to meet with McCrory and ask for the more our students deserve. We have been asking for three things: 1) to expand Medicaid immediately, 2) to fully fund our schools, and 3) to repeal HB2. I know this doesn’t cover everything. This isn’t everything our students need, but it’s a good place to start.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we have all been asking for more. This is not our first request. How many of you have written an OP-ED? How many of you have called or emailed your legislators? How many of you were lobbying today for more? And what has it changed? We are still fighting to no avail. We’re drowning.

As teachers, we don’t get to give up. We don’t have that option. When our students deserve more, we find ways. But we’ve been dipping into our own pockets, giving our own time, expending our own energy to get more for education and nothing has changed. And it’s clear the political leaders are not listening. The time has come for us to be heard. I don’t know about you, but I am done being ignored while I sit back and watch my students and their families struggle.

It’s time we make our leaders listen. It’s time to be heard. Let’s see if they can hear us. Repeat after me in your biggest teacher voice: Students deserve more. Students deserve more.

*Speech given June 15, 2016 at the Students Deserve More Rally in Raleigh, N.C.