by Angie Scioli, Wake County Teacher, Founder of Red4EdNC
I went on a “listening tour” this week and talked to some NC teachers. I sensed some ambivalence from a few about whether they should participate in this year’s May 1 education march, though they had enthusiastically attended last year. A version of “we did that last year, what good did it do?” was a common refrain.
Let me answer that honestly. It did a HELL OF A LOT OF GOOD, and that’s why this year is very different than last year. What good did it do?
But here’s the truth about power – you build it, and use it, or you lose it. That is why this year’s march is very different and twice as important:
If you hear your education friends talking about how “we did this last year”, please share this article. This year is nothing like last year, except for the fact we are asking you to gather, in May, wearing red. And if we play our cards right, every year after this one will be different, and better, because through collective action and building our capacity for leveraging real power, we will demand and create better learning and working conditions for all NC students and school workers. In this together. All out.
In my last post, I documented how one-on-one meetings were key to building a “coalition of the willing” - teachers in my building who want to stay in teaching but want to see working and learning conditions improve.
The article was written after my 10th on-on-one meeting. After that, I recruited a veteran colleague to join me in arranging and doing these meetings; I decided when we were 20 strong, it would be time to hold a meeting.
The hardest part about getting the coalition together is that they are REALLY busy. Some have kids to pick up after school, others lead meetings every day after school, and others have second jobs. I decided the best time to meet was for a potluck lunch during a teacher workday. Luckily, bad weather hasn’t hit us quite as hard as past years, and we still had one in February.
Since I now have emails and cell phone numbers of everyone in the coalition, communication is fairly easy. I emailed them about the details for the potluck and everyone coming declared what they would bring. I thought a lot about the agenda. I wanted it to be inclusive, informative, and set us up for next level action. Here’s the notes from the meeting:
On large poster paper, we each recorded a problem / solution we have identified and innovated since 1/1/2019, either in our work or home life. While some did that, others filled their plates and vice-versa.
We started the formal meeting by processing the stuff on the poster board. Things we noticed: our job takes over our.lives, it can keep us from basic self care, we solve problems all the time, etc.
Then I made some comments:
We will be tracking which events get the best attendance and building our organization from there.
Our first “capacity building” action was our first Red4Ed picture the Wednesday after the meeting. The four planning period captains texted their teachers that day and told them the time and location of the picture. They took the pics, sent them to me, and I made the digital collage for posting / sharing. It went well! During my planning period, I pulled two people into the pic, quickly brought them up to date, and one joined the coalition right there and then!
The next event was “happy hour” at a nearby pub on a Friday after payday. Eight people attended in the driving rain, and we had a great time. I decided not to have an agenda / formal meeting at that event, but we did talk about organizing in general and opportunities for collective action in the future.
Our next event will be an after school meeting. I’m going to “take back” the teacher’s lounge - it’s a space we used to use all the time but have neglected as the pace of our days have become more and more frenetic. And then, the Zoom call will hopefully allow people to engage who just can’t make the after school / workday events, largely because of childcare issues.
My current takeaway: so far, so good! I feel like we are building “people power” in my building, slowly but surely. There will be lots of opportunities this spring to flex the capacity we are building and I’m looking forward to it!
By: Angie Scioli
(This is a post from February 2019)
My path to doing grassroots organizing was documented in this article and this one. I’m a month into the work (10 one-on-one meetings) and I’ve been encouraged to write about the journey thus far.
The big picture: I want to build teacher unity and power in my building so we can act collectively to improve learning and working conditions for students and teachers. I want us to build relational trust and shared appreciation for what gifts we can each bring to that work. My goals are to find: 1) teachers who love teaching and 2) are not satisfied with the current conditions and 3) would likely keep teaching if those conditions improved. I want to form them into a group called “The Coalition of the Willing” (I made that up) and then I want us to figure out what we are going to do together.
When master organizers told me that one-one-one meetings were important, I thought there was no way I had time to do this work. The truth of the matter is, I was “playing” on my phone for about thirty minutes after school right after the kids left for the day. Now, about 2-3 times a week, I’m heading straight to meet with a colleague. Since this work is aligned with my personality / disposition, I really look forward to the meetings and interaction. I don’t miss playing on my phone.
Before I started this process, I met with my Wake NCAE President, Kristin Beller. She helped me see that my school might need to be “formally” organized, but that could more easily be achieved if I tapped into how it was informally organized. There are already natural leaders in the school who lead groups of people. They might be work related groups or social groups. But you can more quickly organize your building if you start meeting with the leaders who are likely to be like-minded.
I teach in a trailer in the school bus parking lot, isolated from the main building, and there has been some teacher turnover at my school, so I’ve lost track of “who hangs with who” in the building. So, my first meetings were with more veteran teachers who have taught in lots of different classrooms in the building and gotten to know lots of people. They also are strong mentors and know the younger teachers better than most. They provided lots of great insights and I value their opinions. They thought my organizing strategy was worth a shot and they suggested who I should meet with. And so, I started reaching out. The first people I met with were younger teachers I did not know that well. I emailed them something like this:
“Hello! Hope you are well!
I am doing some soul searching about how to be a better teacher advocate and I could use your insights and advice. I'm in need of diverse perspectives and you immediately came to mind! Would you be willing to meet for a half hour next week? I can do second period, B lunch any day but Tuesday and I'm here every day after school until 5pm.
If we can find a time, I'll send you an article I've drafted to provide some background. If you have time to read it, great, if not I can bring you up to speed when we meet.
Thanks for considering!!
They were surprisingly enthusiastic to be contacted, which was nice!
The meetings have taken on a certain “flow”. Here’s the sequence that seems to be working best right now and the directions I would give a colleague wanting to help conduct these meetings:
6. I ask them who they think I should meet with next and why. I write those ideas down for later consideration. I’m finding they are usually on point!
7. I thank them for their time and tell them I will follow up with an email.
8. I go to a spreadsheet I have created. I record their name, phone number, private email, what challenges they mentioned in the meeting, their strengths / gifts and if they are a member of a professional organization.
9. I send them a thank you text and an email to the Coalition introducing our newest member and reiterating when the upcoming events are.
I’m only ten meetings in, so it’s early to declare any kind of victory. But in the words of Oprah Winfrey, here’s “what I know for sure.” I am enjoying this work. I feel like hope is growing in the building.
And that, for now, is enough. See ya down the road : ) Thanks for reading!
Searching for the “Easy” Button
for Teacher Unity and Power
By Angie Scioli, Wake County Teacher & founder of Red4EdNC
We were waking up, but we didn’t quite know how to put our feet on the floor. It was the summer of 2013, and a critical mass of talented teachers at my school had just awoken from our fairly privileged oblivion to realize that all was not well in education policy in North Carolina. The new supermajority was eviscerating cherished assets in our educational establishment: pre-K seats, the Teaching Fellows scholarship, valued teacher assistants, precious instructional materials.
In a flurry, we established an advocacy group, Red4EdNC and I wrote an open letter to NC suggesting we all wear “Red4Ed on Wed.” to show our collective anger and force change. I recall Wake NCAE president Larry Nilles meeting with us that first week. He suggested that we should embark upon a grassroots organizational strategy at our school. It would entail holding one-on-one meetings with our teachers, building relationships across departments, and constructing capacity for future collective action.
After he left, we were kind of confused and incredulous: “Who has time for THAT? We’re busy teachers for goodness sake!”
“Why do all that when we can just form a website and Facebook page and wear our new t-shirts on Wednesday?”
The opening salvo in the search for the “teacher unity easy button” was declared.
And so we did those very things: we started a website, sold 500 t-shirts statewide, wrote articles, and attended protests. For good measure, I agreed to be a primary subject in a documentary, where the producers shadowed me for a year and made a movie. The film pulled back the curtain on a teacher’s daily struggles, raising awareness of the unsustainable “hero teacher” narrative that infuses the public discourse on teaching. It seemed certain we would achieve great things by informing the public who would then vote in a manner reflecting that new insight.
The 2014 election cycle, however, provided little consolation or reassurance; nor did things not improve in 2015. Attendance at protests faltered. The crowd at our weekly Red4Ed picture noticeably waned. We regrouped. Maybe these “outsider tactics” were overrated. So we embarked on developing an “inside game.” I accepted a fellowship with the Hope Street group, learned more about policy, served on work groups and commissions; we decided a specific bipartisan policy proposal for creating career pathways for educators could build “inside networks” that could lead to better education policies. “Project Ignite” was born. A different easy button was conceived: skipping unity altogether and going straight to power and policy.
At first, lobbying was surprisingly easy. An actual classroom teacher lobbying for a specific policy proposal is somewhat of a unicorn, so I was welcomed and granted a hearing. Republican leaders set me on a path to gain key supporters in the Senate and House, and I was checking them off off my list at a good clip. I met with the Superintendent’s office - they were supportive. One senator suggested we should get the proposal to bill writing! Was it really going to be THIS easy? I was getting smug.
Then the phone stopped ringing and General Assembly leaders no longer returned emails. I was eventually called to a meeting and told there were no funds for the $1.7 million pilot project. The next week, however, I read in the paper the General Assembly had a $357 million surplus. I was confused. Where had we stumbled?
I floated a theory by a General Assembly staffer who works closely with elected members: Was it possible that when Republicans saw our group name, Red4EdNC, they assumed we were REPUBLICANS for better ed policy in NC? And then someone Googled us, figured out our mission, and they “ghosted”? “Entirely possible,” she said. That is how deep our echo chambers are; the protest group we founded in 2013 was entirely outside the awareness of the people we sought to influence. Amazing.
Back to the drawing board - with a new appreciation for unity. Finding the “teacher unity easy button” was really not so easy! But wait, they were finding it in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona . . . we could see the throngs of teachers in their respective state houses, wearing red, taking collective action and forcing concessions! How were they doing this? Through what process were they determining and articulating demands? How could we replicate that in NC?
One realization we came to is that NC teachers must unite and demand change. And though collective bargaining is technically illegal in this state, those laws, under the right circumstances, could be changed in a matter of days. It was up to us to create those circumstances.
While NCAE / Organize 2020 began planning the May 16th March, Red4Ed launched the idea of holding a NC Teacher Congress soon afterwards that would meet and articulate demands. We rebranded, relaunched with a new (incredible) statewide board of advisors, and handed out 5000 cards at the march to drive people to our website. We followed up with Facebook Live videos, issued a Declaration in Defense of NC’s Public Schoolchildren, and obtained teacher signers from 104 different school districts in NC. Throughout the summer of 2018 we planned for statewide press conferences, polished our Teacher Congress plan, and conducted outreach. We would follow up the press conferences with a big campaign to have each school start a faculty Facebook page, where collective action would be planned and carried out. The teacher unity (not-so) easy button was in grasp!
Imagine our surprise at the low teacher attendance at our eight statewide press conferences (though media coverage was significant) and, after a week, only thirty schools had formed faculty Facebook pages. Thirty. There are over 2500 schools in NC.
Participation at my own school was particularly instructive. We planned our press conference for noon, during the lunch hour on a teacher workday, on the sidewalk right outside our K-12 school. We had worked hard all week to make teachers aware of the event, handing out handbills at our opening meeting and leafleting cars in the teacher lot. All they had to do on Friday was step outside and wear red. With over 250 teachers on our campus, getting 100 to come out should have been a snap. When the day was sunny and a mild 80 degrees, it seemed destined the event would be well attended. About thirty showed up. I walked through the halls of my school, amazed that so few of my colleagues wore red or had any intention of participating. Clearly, I had missed something.
The hard truth is, there is not an “easy button” to teacher unity and power. Unity and power does not come from social media nor is it solely idea-driven. Instead, it comes from real RELATIONSHIPS--shared vision and action spring forth from those authentic connections. In all the writing, lobbying, strategizing, I had failed to forge authentic relationships in my school that would have propelled us to collective action. In the end, Larry Nilles (and the other talented organizers I have met with since) was right from the start.
Collective action must begin at our schools. We need to meet, one-on-one and together. We need to know what our shared vision is and what gifts we each can bring to the work. We must build capacity for collective action, training new leaders and bringing people to an awareness of the potential power of a membership-based union that represents a majority of teachers in NC.
Once we build a firm foundation at our schools, unity across organizations is equally important. This is why Red4EdNC, NCAE / Organize2020, and North Carolina Teachers United leaders are meeting and working together in a concerted effort to leverage our collective abilities to lead teachers in this grassroots organizing work.
Ironically, maybe all our hard work has led us to finally finding the easy button. Setting aside a few minutes each day to talk with the talented teachers in my school, getting to know them better, old friends and new, and discovering the varied perspectives and abilities they bring - that is going to be energizing and thought-provoking work. Getting together more often to share the small victories we experienced with our students in a given week will bring joy and camaraderie to our building. And, working across organizational lines with other dedicated and amazing education advocates is already proving to be rejuvenating.
Be brilliant, not just smart. Smart people learn from their own experience; brilliant people learn from the experience of others. If you are just waking up to the need for collective action in NC, trust me. The “easy button” to teacher and unity and power in NC is not a new and shiny object, but an old reliable tool that takes the shape of concern, care, relationship, and shared vision. And you can use it to reach out to the teachers in your building to build a movement that will ultimately result in a strong, powerful union capable of getting real improvements in teaching and learning conditions in NC.
Won’t you join me on this new journey? Red4EdNC, NCAE / Organize 2020 and North Carolina Teachers United are holding joint regional meetings in January. There will be a meeting near YOU. Can you reach out to a few teachers at your school and plan to attend? We would love to meet you, join hands, and walk forward together to forge a new level of unity and teacher power in NC, with deep roots and unlimited potential.
By Nancy Snipes Mosley, Wake County Teacher
Women of my generation all fondly remember pretending to be Wonder Woman when we were little girls, spinning around like Lynda Carter in our Underoos. For that moment, we could be both princess and hero.
With her recent resurgence into our popular culture, I have acquired new Wonder Woman swag from my family. Some days, I look at myself wearing Wonder Woman PJs in the mirror and think, “Well, this is ironic. I don’t feel like a strong role model, a source of inspiration and power. I feel tired and stressed and hooked on caffeine.”
What’s the big deal about Wonder Woman, anyway? She’s warrior and diplomat, goddess and human. She’s strong-willed and compassionate, with an unwavering moral compass. She does have some vulnerability and has suffered loss, but her willingness to make sacrifices for the common good keeps her strong and focused on her mission.
But can she get teenagers to understand the Electoral College, navigate the red tape of organizing an overnight field trip, check a big stack of essays for plagiarism, feed a family of picky eaters, coordinate the sports schedules of a young gymnast and baseball player, and help them both with their homework before bedtime?
Let’s see how Wonder Woman and teachers really compare:
Teachers aren’t superheroes, but they have power to be strong role models for young people. This means showing them what it means to listen to others while also speaking up for yourself. Serving the community while also taking care of your own needs. Bearing your responsibilities while also staying in control of your life. Doing what is best for your own family and other families too.
So, go ahead and wear that Wonder Woman symbol with pride. Let it be a reminder that we do something heroic when we take care of the next generation, and that we must be strong enough to demand what we need for the job. If you don’t have anything with the WWs emblazoned on it, any red shirt will do.
By: Anne Mayer, a former teacher
Do you miss it?
That is the most common question I am asked when people find out I used to be a teacher. Former colleagues still in the classroom ask it a lot, too. The answer, without a doubt, is yes.
I miss kids every day. I miss their proud smiles when they recognize their hard work paid off; their laughter at a corny kid joke or a pun they thought of with their friends; looking over when they asked me to watch them dance, cheer, throw, or successfully complete a hard math problem; and partnering with amazing parents to set the path straight. Most of all, I miss the connections.
I miss teaching the way I used to teach. I used to be able to collaborate with peers to create meaningful projects. I used to be able to brainstorm ways to make learning fun and engaging. I miss the trust I was given to teach children what they needed to know to be successful. I miss the liberty to take a few extra days to teach the really hard concepts. I miss the art of teaching.
When I was teaching, I was in it. I worked hard day in and day out for my students. I led many extracurricular activities in my 21 years in the classroom, from Spell Bowl to Science Olympiad to Student Council to yearbook to mentor. I obtained my National Boards. I was grade chair many times. I was Teacher of the Year a few times. It was my life and my identity. Since I wasn’t blessed with my own children, I poured what I had into other people’s children.
Leaving teaching was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I never wanted to turn into one of those teachers just counting down to retirement. With only 9.5 years in North Carolina of my 21, I knew I had to make a decision. My decision to leave was not solely based on the lack of a competitive wage. I could not put my head on my pillow at night knowing I was causing such pressure and anxiety in 9-10 year olds with tests I did not want to give, after delivering a scripted curriculum that I did not write. I taught at an extraordinary school my last few years of teaching, and I thought if I was feeling the way I did while at a great school, I was not going to make it. Morale was at an all time low, the economy was still shaky, and with the direction lawmakers were headed, no retirement benefits would be left by the time I got there. I was also frustrated students’ parents were not angrier about what was happening. Combining this with the roaches and mold, broken heat/air conditioning, non-functioning windows, locks that wouldn’t lock, and spending my own money for classroom materials – all troubles I encountered over the years – was more than enough to make me ask myself what I was doing.
So, in September of 2013, I walked into my principal’s office and told her I was leaving at the end of the school year. Several teachers that year had left after school started with a short notice, but I promised I would stay until the end. I knew it would be an emotional year for me and I wanted to savor every moment, good or bad. I wanted to enjoy the last field trips, the last field day, pajama days, and all of those corny kid jokes. It was going to be a process for me to leave. When I got an interview invitation on the last day of school at 2:00, I knew it was meant to be that I leave.
In June of 2014, at 45 years old, I started at a biotechnology company in RTP in an entry-level position, and I am so glad I did. I didn’t know what I was doing or if I could even do it well, but I did believe in this company and what they do to help people. From the beginning I was in awe. The professional development was amazing; the technology was fantastic; even small things like the copy machine/printer only printing my work when I swiped my badge. I didn’t have to rummage through dozens of other papers on the printer to find mine? Amazing. Oh, and in four years, we have never run out of copy paper. Not once. Even perks like free coffee (with an assortment of creams and sugars), tea, and soda were available. We have never run out of this once, either. All of the equipment works – all the time.
More importantly, however, the feeling of service that teaching provided me was still part of my new day to day. In a short time, my hard work was recognized and I received a promotion. I moved to managing a territory where I could connect with patients, their doctors, and a field team. I was given opportunities for development like Emerging Leaders, Introduction to Project Management, Managing within the Law, and Manager Essentials. I earned my Six Sigma Green Belt. I’ve had a few more promotions and I now lead a team of 14. After four years, my salary is about double from when I left teaching, and I have work/life balance. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and learn so much, and I appreciate the new challenges that come my way. My feedback is comprehensive, specific, and meaningful. My leaders cheer me on and continue to mentor me. The praise I receive is genuine, and the opportunities given me prove that good teachers have transferable skills that can make us successful in most places. My financial status now allows me to prepare for my future instead of tutoring after school to supplement my income.
When comparing teaching to my current experiences, I get angry. Yes, I clearly understand the difference between taxpayer money that funds schools and working for a publicly traded company. I know it is comparing apples to oranges, but the reality lies in feeling valued. As time went on, I did not feel valued as a teacher. My leaders in education, just as frustrated and stressed out about even more than I was, did not have time to provide the support they wanted to offer. Working with impossible budgets, broken buildings, and unrealistic standards didn’t leave much for building morale at a school. Lawmakers were denying a competitive wage and making decisions via shady processes. Teachers and administrators continued to get more and more burdens put on them, and the testing pressure mounted. It seemed that everyone in charge had more concern for test results than allowing students to experience the journey of learning. The funny thing is, in the “real” world, the journey drives the results.
Do I miss teaching? Yes, but I know I did a good job of leaving when a former student told her new teacher that I must have left because I would be too sad without our class. She wasn’t wrong, but even more so, I love that that is what she believed.
by: John deVille, Macon County Social Studies Teacher
In the August 29th edition of The Franklin Press, Lynn Martin, mother of a child in the third grade, wrote of her dissatisfaction with having to purchase school supplies for other children in her son’s classroom (“Don’t force parents to provide supplies for all”). Ms. Martin wrote that her “family works hard to ensure bills are paid and food is on the table.” Ms. Martin was upset her son may have to forgo the “cool Captain America notebook” because the school was asking her to purchase more generic notebooks so they may be distributed throughout the classroom without generating envy or slight.
I completely agree with Ms. Martin — she and her family should not have to subsidize the purchase of school supplies for the other students in her son’s classroom. Period. Full stop.
More and more, Ms. Martin and other North Carolina middle and working class parents like her, are unfairly being asked to subsidize the shortfalls in North Carolina classrooms because:
1. The economic recovery from the 2008 recession has resulted in greater economic inequality with many North Carolinians below or near the poverty line. Macon County workers make 25% below the state average, in line with the trend of rural North Carolina lagging in the recovery.
2. Shifts in North Carolina’s tax policies put in place the past few years by the General Assembly which have favored wealthier citizens over working taxpayers.
3. North Carolina public education funding on a per pupil basis is 7.9% lower than it was in 2008 when adjusted for inflation and the increased number of students in our classrooms.
4. There has been a failure of the General Assembly to comply with their constitutional obligation and disburse $730 million of civil fines and penalties which have already been collected but not disbursed to school systems. A court ruled in 2008 that these funds must be distributed but the state agencies failed to comply. Just last month, the North Carolina School Board Association filed yet another lawsuit demanding payment. Macon County alone is owed over $2 million — funds which must be spent on technology which would, in turn, free up more funds for other classroom supplies.
5. After being wined and dined by Apple and completely without consultation with teachers, school boards, and superintendents, State Superintendent Mark Johnson thought it would be a good idea to purchase iPads for all K-3 teachers at the cost of $6 million which the previous state superintendent was not permitted to disburse. Many North Carolina K-3 teachers would have appreciated the $500 per teacher for classroom supplies rather than technology which might be redundant or unable to be integrated into classroom use.
To provide a snapshot of increasing economic desperation, consider the percentage of students in North Carolina on free & reduced lunch increased over 15% in one year going from 52% needing the program in 2016 to 60% in 2017.
Income taxes in North Carolina have been cut but mostly to the benefit of the top 20%, especially the top 1%, which receives an average of $21,780 in tax breaks a year, which is 59 times the average cut for people in the middle fifth of the income scale and 1,361 times the average cut for people in the bottom 20%.
Under the new tax system which went into effect in 2016 & 2017, a taxpayer making $30,000 a year saw a $50 cut in income taxes but one $750 car repair (and the working class is far more likely to be driving a car in need of frequent repairs) results in a new tax of $50 which would wipe the income tax cut away and put those notebooks a little further out of reach.
Income taxes were cut, and revenues to the state coffers reduced, but the costs of funding schools adequately remains the same. That has resulted in either larger classes, missing classes, lack of textbooks and so on, OR it has resulted in counties such as Macon having to kick more in to the current operating expense budget, OR asking parents like Ms. Martin to subsidize the classroom. One gobsmacking story in student/parent subsidization of what is supposed to be a free education is Wake County raising the parking permits for high school students from $80 to $200. Thankfully, FHS remains at $5.
Under the umbrella of the 7.9% public education funding gap, North Carolina students have suffered a 50% cut for classroom supplies.
Parents like Ms. Martin aren’t the only ones subsidizing the lack of classroom supplies. North Carolina teachers are spending on average $500 to $1,000 of their own money on classroom supplies — ask any Macon County teacher for details. Budget cuts necessitate more student fundraising — guess who are the first people students ask to buy a $2 candle or a $2 tin of candied popcorn for $10? And then after us, they ask their cash-strapped parents.
Representative Kevin Corbin and I discussed this very issue on the evening of August 23rd. He pointed out that he keeps hearing teachers say “we have no supplies” and he noted that statement distresses him because he knows the General Assembly does in fact provide school supply money but that sometimes it doesn’t find its way to the classroom because of issues at central offices (an issue that we do not have here in Macon County). While I told him I appreciated his commitment to ensure those funds to find their way directly to the classroom, I reminded him that school supply monies were HALF of what they were in 2008. He agreed with that statement and committed to work on improving those funding levels. If we can restore that funding, then the sort of unfair subsidization Ms. Martin rightly denounces, should become less necessary.
Another hit to the Macon County Schools budget arises from the fact that we are compelled to pay $90,000 a year to Summit Charter in Cashiers for students from Highlands who attend that school. By law, operational dollars follow the student, and on the surface that seems eminently fair, but charters tend to attract the least expensive students to educate and leave more costly special needs students to the traditional public schools. $90,000 taken off the top for an exceptionally well-heeled charter school would purchase a lot of school supplies if those funds were left in the Macon County Schools budget.
In addition to the cuts to classroom supplies have been the cuts to textbooks, which currently stands at 37% below 2008 funding levels — this actually represents a rebound as we had several years of zero or near zero funding for textbooks since 2011. That shortfall resulted in school systems burning up their copying machines and their meager school supply budgets just to get some sort of relevant instructional materials in the hands of students.
As I see it, the problem isn’t with the “families who have figured out the system” but with the donor class which has created the system which has systematically redistributed wealth from working and middle class with new taxes and new demands for subsidization while cutting essential services.
The student and her parents who are struggling financially, likely stuck in minimum wage jobs without full-time hours, are not the oppressors — they don’t have the power to oppress. We need to focus on those who do....just like Captain America would.
by: Shelly Reathaford, Science Teacher
As I closed out the first week of school, I logged onto Facebook feeling great. It was the weekend, I received a pay raise (that I didn’t have to beg, strike, march, or quite frankly, ask for), my class sizes are easily manageable, and my classroom is fully stocked for the new year. As I was scrolling through my feed, I came across a post from a former colleague where he mentioned he would greet 102 students on Monday. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. ONE HUNDRED AND TWO STUDENTS? In three classes? You’ve got to be joking. As I posted my own comment, I couldn’t help but reflect on the degree that my own life as an educator has changed by simply moving to a new state.
I remember when I announced I would be moving to South Carolina. Many of my dearest friends had smiles plastered on their faces and deep concern in their eyes. Why would anyone leave North Carolina Public Schools for South Carolina Public Schools? The state of education had to be worse, right? I have to admit I, too, was a little concerned but it only took one month for me to see that I was going to be so much better off, both personally and professionally.
Starting with money (because whether we want to admit it or not it really does make the world go ‘round) the set-up is much better for me. I make enough to meet my needs. I get paid twice per month, twelve months per year. I am coming off the best summer of my professional life as I didn’t have to work two jobs to keep afloat (because let’s admit part-time gigs do not make ends meet when you’re running a household). In fact, I didn’t work at all. I truly took the time to recharge and refresh. I’m confident my kids will thank me for this as we continue through the year and I can definitely tell a difference in my attitude and outlook as I return to the daily grind.
Professionally, I have seen the many ways in which I am more supported as a SC educator. As a science teacher, I used to spend a lot of money on my own lab supplies and I no longer spend anything; the district provides us with everything we need. I used to spend countless hours working at home, researching content due to having outdated books, and writing intricate test questions that would scaffold depth of knowledge to ensure content mastery. While working at home does go hand-in-hand with teaching, my new district provides updated textbooks and test question banks, so I am more efficient at home. I am also provided with curriculum maps that are updated annually; they provide accessible resources aligned with state standards and the supplies / activities we have available in our classrooms. While I never thought I’d admit to this, I am now a huge fan of technology in the classroom, as students and teachers are provided with devices that truly engage our students and prepare them as 21st century learners.
Taking all of this into account, it is imperative that NC educators continue fighting the good fight. Stand up, stand tall, and make your voices heard!
By Angela Scioli, John deVille, and Teacher X
This article was originally published in 2015.
I was inspired by Governor Hunt’s comment at a recent Public Schools First NC Event. He said, “Teachers need to understand if this [situation] is going to change, teachers are going to have speak up, stand up, take some risks! “
But, if you are a North Carolina teacher, you might also be scared to speak up. I’ve spoken to a lot of teachers around the state who are intimidated by the thought of public advocacy. Let’s review the facts, get past the spin, and bury that bogeyman so we can better advocate for our profession and our students.
Many young teachers (and teachers who have switched districts in recent years) do NOT have due process / tenure rights and they won’t get them back in the foreseeable future unless their local school boards decide to change that. Loss of that security blanket is new, and that can be scary. Teachers without tenure can be fired without cause at the end of any school year. They are basically seasonal employees and that makes them vulnerable to being fired unjustly. This reality should be duly noted and not dismissed.
But most veteran teachers DO have their due process rights, thanks to NCAE’s successful fight to defend those rights in court. The recent ruling that tenure rights, once granted, are a property right and cannot be revoked was one bright spot in the state courts’ ruling record of late.
Existing statutes say teachers cannot use their classrooms to further their own personal political agendas, and they can’t use school time, facilities, resources, or computers to do such work.
That leaves a tremendous amount of space and time for public educators to take full advantage of their First Amendment freedoms.
More significant is some of the less well-publicized wording in the bill, “As an individual, each employee of a local board of education retains all the rights and obligations of citizenship provided in the Constitution and laws of the State of North Carolina and the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.” In other words, you can speak, write, and advocate on your own time and resources like any other citizen can.
Here’s another section: “No member of a local board of education or employee of the local board of education exercising supervisory authority shall make, issue, or enforce any rule or policy the effect of which is to interfere with the right of any employee of the local board of education as an individual to engage in political activity while not on duty or at times during which the employee is not performing services for which the employee receives compensation from the local board.” In other words, you can speak, write, and advocate on your own time and resources like any other citizen can.
Some well-meaning opponents of the bill have led many teachers to think that hyperbolic doomsday scenarios – like teachers being banned from wearing red – are already a matter of agreed upon policy. They are not. In the 1972 James v. Board of Education case, the courts defended teachers’ rights to wear black arm bands in class to protest the Vietnam War. The courts determined that the symbolic speech did not disrupt instruction and was related to teachers’ positions as private citizens, and so wearing the armbands was allowed.
While the earlier case speaks to purely symbolic speech through the use of color, a 2006 Supreme Court case, Garcetti v. Ceballos, paired with an earlier decision in Pickering v. Board of Ed, clarified how verbal or written speech by public employees might be weighed. The Garcetti ruling clearly states that so long as a teacher isn’t acting in his or her official capacity as a public employee, that employee retains his or her First Amendment protections. As long as the teacher is speaking on a matter of public concern (our schools don’t have enough textbooks, our schools are too crowded, etc.), then Pickering protects that speech, so long as the educator is (a) off campus and not using public school equipment and (b) speaking to matters of public concern. In other words, they should avoid making statements that draw upon insider information privy only to employees.
We recognize some administrators, sensitive to public opinion, have directed their staff to not engage in symbolic speech. We believe such prohibitions constitute prior restraint and such speech is indeed permissible. We’re not lawyers, though. Consult yours, NCAE’s or PENC’s…..but let’s not be collectively bullied into the shadows.
With this knowledge, teachers have been taking action in advocacy. We just need a lot more of them. My friend, Social Studies Teacher John deVille from Franklin (in the mountains), another teacher friend in the East (who shall remain nameless – more on that later) and I generated a list of advocacy actions we have taken. We have, collectively:
John and I also recognize our privilege. I live in a large metropolitan area with a school board and county commissioners (for now – the state redrew their districts for 2016) which are squarely in the corner for public education and are supportive of teachers being advocates for public education on their own time and with their own resources. John teaches in the district he grew up in, and while he’s had tough moments, ultimately the community had his back. I am a veteran teacher who has taught at my school for 22 years, while John is starting his 20th year. We have a solid reputations at our schools and in our respective communities; our evaluations have always been good and we aren’t on an “action plan”. We have tenure (John was a plaintiff in the successful NCAE tenure lawsuit). We are both NCAE members and we know they will fight on our behalf because they have in the past. Neither of us are sole income earner in our families.
If you find yourself in a situation similar to ours, look at that list above and consider what more you might be doing to fight this fight. To those who much is given, much is expected.
If you do not find yourself in a position as privileged (like my friend in the East, who does not feel comfortable “going public” in every way, but is an effective activist in every sense of the word), look at the list above and consider what you CAN do. Remember the facts, not the hype. Do a careful accounting of your situation; assess your vulnerabilities politically and personally, and take that into account.
But above all, ACT, to the fullest degree possible.
If we all do what we can, when we can, as long as we can . . . we can be a powerful force in helping to save public education in North Carolina. Replace fear with calculation AND action.
Teacher, Macon County Schools
Teacher, Wake County Public Schools
Teacher, North Carolina Public Schools