I moved to North Carolina to be a teacher in the summer of 2007. I didn’t know anything about the area and I didn’t know anyone here. All I knew was that I needed to get some classroom experience so I could go home to New York and get a teaching job. It’s been almost 12 years and I’m still here gaining classroom experience and I don’t see myself leaving.
Not long after I got my first teaching job, the state of public education in North Carolina started on a downward spiral that we are still trying to get out of. Since moving to NC, per-pupil spending has gone from $8,615 in 2007 to $9,528 in 2018. Not only are both of those numbers below the national average for that year, but the difference between NC per-pupil spending and the national average has increased over time. We currently rank 39th in the country in per pupil spending.
Teacher pay follows a similar story. I was excited about moving to North Carolina because the teacher pay scale had a scheduled raise every year. Before the end of my first year teaching, that pay scale froze. It remained frozen for 4 years. It was fine. I never got into teaching to get rich. I was living paycheck to paycheck and wasn’t able to save money but I could pay all of my bills. I have a master’s degree. I shouldn’t have to live that way. No one should.
Over my 11 years of teaching, I have seen a lot of changes in schools. From a decrease in teacher assistants to an increase in testing requirements. At first, I was baffled that the schools in North Carolina didn’t have a full-time nurse in every building but that is just the beginning. I now have fully scripted programs I’m required to teach for phonics and math. It’s coming soon for reading, I fear. My creativity and professional discretion has been stripped from me in the name of fidelity and equity.
It took me 9 and a half years of teaching in a deteriorating system to finally see the importance of joining our educators’ union, NCAE. I recognized the importance of organization and communication among educators when working toward better learning conditions for our students. I was starting to get frustrated with legislators taking advantage of passionate educators. I watched the work in Virginia and West Virginia and realized NEA was where the work was being done. I immediately joined my state and local chapter. I was even more excited to see the work in more states.
In May 2018, a march and rally were planned to show solidarity and begin to make moves on our general assembly. It turned into about 42 school districts closing and 30,000 educators, parents, and students showing up in downtown Raleigh to fight for schools our students deserve. We could have that same strength and power every day through membership.
After the rally, we worked together during the midterm election to support and vote for candidates who support public schools. We broke the supermajority in our general assembly which is a major win. Could you imagine the changes we could see in North Carolina through more members in NCAE?
In January I attended a full day meeting on a Saturday with other educator advocates. We discussed our dream for schools in North Carolina, the past and current political climate, and where we are going as an organization. We learned how to talk to elected officials and use social media to our benefit. Above all that, we build community. We made connections and friendships with like-minded educators from all over the state.
Last week, I had an appointment with my state senator, Wiley Nickel. I went prepared with a bulleted list of some of the important things we are asking for from the general assembly for public schools. I handed him my list and we chatted. I was so nervous. I had never talked to a legislator before. Turns out, they’re human. He was really easy to talk to. He wanted to know about my school, how we’re staffed, what is important to us, and what I love about teaching in North Carolina. He seemed genuinely interested and he asked to visit me at my school. Then he asked me not to leave North Carolina public schools. I look forward to meeting with him again.
Through all of this, I’ve learned that teachers shouldn’t be afraid or nervous to advocate for what they know is best for students. Legislators make the laws, but we know what we need and we need to make that transparent. We don’t need to be doormats that get walked all over and taken advantage of. We need to welcome the community into our schools and share the reality of educating young people.
I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Teaching is rewarding in so many ways. Senator Nickel, I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to fight for Strong Students, Strong Schools, Strong Communities for as long as it takes. Will you join me?