By: Morgan Fulbright
Wake County Teacher
As most of you are probably aware, many schools across the state are cancelling classes Wednesday, May 16th, for a massive teacher rally and protest in downtown Raleigh. This has, of course, sparked discussion on both sides of the issue. Many people are supportive and understand why teachers feel the need to descend upon the legislature in record numbers. Many others take this as yet another opportunity to criticize public education in general and classroom teachers in particular. As usually happens when something controversial about public education surfaces in the news, there are two specific arguments that circulate that really make my blood pressure spike. The first is: “If you hate it so much, you should just quit and go do something else.” The other is: “You knew what you were getting into when you signed up for this job.” Allow me a moment, in my long-winded English teacher way, to share with you the fatal flaws in these two arguments.
For starters, I don’t hate my job. Not even a little bit. Sure, there are things about my job that I don’t enjoy. For instance, lunch duty is THE WORST. I resent having to give up 25 minutes of my lunch period 3 days a week to supervise the stairwell. It is mind-numbingly boring, and it is certainly not at the top of my list of things I would like to do with that 25 minutes of my day. However, things like that are small when compared to the love I have for the work that I do. I love my job so much that when I fantasize about switching careers in order to make more money, I can’t realistically picture myself doing anything else.
In what other job would I get to interact with the girl who writes beautiful poetry about her personal experiences, the student who is passionate about her Christian faith and proudly calls herself a Jesus nerd, the boy who is so good at math that he could teach the classes he is taking, the girl who loves K-Pop so much that she did an extra project just to be able to do one about her favorite bands, the student who is graduating a whole year early and has been accepted into the Scholars program at NC State, the girl who rarely speaks up in class but who produces the most beautiful artwork, the boy who is unapologetically outspoken about the absurdity of gender stereotypes and prejudices about sexuality, the student who is so passionate about her work with the special needs class that she spends every spare moment in their classroom? In what other job would I get to interact with all of these people and so many more at the same time on a daily basis? Why would we not, as a community, want to do everything in our power to make sure that these students have the resources and opportunities that they need in order to be the best version of themselves today and in the future?
As for the second argument, that I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this job, it’s just simply not true. Most teachers can attest to the fact that while our undergrad education programs effectively prepared us to teach the content of our subject areas, there was absolutely nothing in college that prepared us for the reality of teaching classes of 30-40 students, all with different ability levels, academic needs, personal needs, and parent support.
I can tell you the things that I did not realize I was signing up for when I became a teacher. I did not realize that I would need to keep snacks in my room for students who had not eaten since they left school the previous afternoon. I did not realize that I would need to purchase basic supplies for my students because either the school or their parents could not afford to buy them, things like notebook paper, pencils, pens, notebooks, and folders. I did not realize that 90 minutes a day is not a sufficient amount of time to make all my lesson plans, grade all of my papers, contact parents, and complete any other responsibilities I have as a teacher, that I would need to spend at least 10-20 unpaid hours working each week in order to keep up. I did not realize that the same textbook I used in my very first year of teaching 12 years ago would be the same textbook that I am using in my classes today. I did not realize that I would need to buy copies of books from Amazon to make sure that my students had current selections to read. I did not realize that I would have to sometimes give up spending afternoons, evenings, and weekend time with my son and husband because I was working a part-time job scoring essays online to make enough money for my family to survive through the summer months. I didn’t realize that even though I was only “working” for 10 months out of the year, what I would really need to do would be to fit 12 months of work into those 10 months, getting to school at 6:45 in the morning and often not leaving until 5:00 in the afternoon. I didn't realize that my pay would be frozen 2 years after signing up for a job that promised a pay step increase each year, and that even after the economy recovered from the recession that the pay scale would not be restored to what it once was. I didn’t realize that as a classroom teacher, I would be used as a scapegoat for societal problems that run much deeper than what can be solved in a 90-minute a day window of time that I get with students.
I also didn’t realize that I would end up loving every single one of my students almost as much as my family members, even when they frustrate the hell out of me. I didn’t realize that 14-18 year olds can be some of the most loving, kind, funny, enjoyable people I have ever met. I didn’t realize that I would have at least one moment in every day when my faith in the future of humanity is restored. While I originally thought that it would be my job to influence and change the lives of my students, I didn’t realize that ultimately it would be my students who would influence and change my life.
So, I don’t hate my job, I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I first signed up for this job, because I have gotten so much more out of this career than I could have ever imagined. Why SHOULDN’T teachers stand up and speak out to ensure that our students are getting so much more out of their education than they could ever imagine? Our lawmakers certainly aren't doing it.
May 16th is personal because our students, who are the future of our communities and the future of our world, deserve the best that we can give them. Their success or failure affects everyone in the community, and teachers will no longer sit silently by while the legislature continues to limit the possibilities for these children.