May 16 was a big day in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was designated the day of advocacy by NCAE. What started out as a few hundred people planning to advocate for public schools in NC grew exponentially into tens of thousands of educators and parents marching together 1 mile from the NCAE building to the Legislative building to fight for our kids. 42 school districts canceled school and made it an optional teacher workday to show support for teachers attending.
Of course, the media twisted our narrative. The national news called it a walkout or a strike. It was neither of those things. Every teacher there took leave we earned to be there. For districts that didn’t cancel, teachers PAID $50 to take a personal day. For others, teachers took annual leave or a day without pay. Much of the news coverage also said out focus was to increase our salaries. And yes, that it is part of it but we were there for so much more. Schools across North Carolina need more funding to make learning environments better for students. Buildings are falling apart, don’t have supplies, technology is out of date, lacking in non-teaching staff (counselors, psychologists, nurses, teacher assistants, etc.), school meals are unhealthy, and so many other reasons.
I was there for the march and the rally. I stayed through the rain. I arrived by bus at 7:45am and left in an uber at 6:30pm.
This is my tenth year teaching in North Carolina. I taught 3 years in Durham County and 7 in Wake County. My experience is diverse.
My first year teaching, our school was in the middle of a major renovation. I moved my classroom 3 times that year as the construction phases moved through our building and new addition. As they began renovations in each phase, the building needed asbestos abatement. We had to walk past danger signs warning of the asbestos. We marched our kids outside under the fans blowing air out of those rooms. The asbestos abatement was only one of our concerns in the 3 years I taught there. We also had mice, roaches, snakes, and mold all over our school. Our windows had bullet holes. We were warned not to stay past dark working in our classrooms. If the neighborhood wasn’t safe for me after dark, it wasn’t safe for my kids either. My third year teaching there, we went on an hour and a half lockdown because someone stole a car at gunpoint and the police chased them into our parking lot. I went every summer to Staples to purchase their penny deals. I bought paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, folders, and notebooks for my students every year. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have it. Parents couldn’t afford to send in supplies and the school didn’t have enough for every student. I knew I couldn’t’ teach without these basics, so I went to every sale and purchased the maximum amount they would allow.
I left at the end of that year for Wake County. I opened a brand new title 1 school. I was amazed by the vastly different access to supplies at this new school in a neighboring county. We had new technology. We had crayons and pencils! I was astonished. I shifted to buying extras for my kids: headphones, books, markers, baskets. This was the year I noticed the school meals. Every student in our building received free and reduced breakfast and lunch. But the food served is lacking in nutritional value at best. There were few fresh fruit and vegetable options. Breakfast was sugary option after sugary option. While my students and I were much better off, we still ran out of things like copy paper. We quickly outgrew our brand new building and we had 25 kids in our rooms. We had to hire 3 teachers mid-year in my grade level alone. But we didn’t have classrooms for them. We taught 2 teachers to a room in 2 rooms. They kept 30 kids and the rest of us went down to 18 students. The third mid-year hired teacher pulled out small groups of students from each classroom and taught them in the janitor’s closet.
The school I teach at now wants for nothing. We have a variety of technology at our fingertips, our supply closet is always full, our building is clean and taken care of, and we have manageable class sizes. I know that the story at my school is an exception. And, I know that isn’t fair. Nor is it normal for our PTA to be providing us with technology and supplies. As great as our school is, I know that I need to fight for equity across our state. Every student should have access to what we have. As educators and parents, we need to continue to come together to speak our truths and make our voices heard.
I marched on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 for every student in the state of North Carolina to be treated fairly, equitably, and with respect. What our schools has become is not ok and cannot continue.