I was packing my lunch for work (OK, OK – a paid internship) when my wife, seated in the living room, read aloud what the General Assembly’s almost-final budget bill does not include.
I stood in the kitchen.
“Master’s pay, merit pay, tenure, and no raises.”
She then said, “Basically, if you do a good job, you get to teach another year.”
* * *
It’s a strange thing, as a middle-class, white American, to feel my way of life is being attacked by a power that refuses to understand the heart of me. My initial internal reaction was embarrassment – as if I should be ashamed to have been a teacher, ashamed to be married to a teacher, and ashamed of loving teaching.
But then, as I secured the top of my Tupperware (leftover chicken pot pie, if we’re wondering), I came to my senses in a poorly lit kitchen.
The embarrassment is not mine to have, nor my wife’s, nor that of teachers in this state.
I am not embarrassed to think molding students for greatness is a calling.
I am not embarrassed that I always ended up slightly giddy when discussing color and symbolism in The Great Gatsby.
I am not ashamed to know that teachers are not and never will be parts of a machine.
* * *
I almost found and find myself at a point of muttering, “It doesn’t even matter anymore,” out of defeat or emotional exhaustion.
But that, I think, is what the General Assembly hopes all teachers will mutter to themselves.
Yes, of course these measures will help ease the financial strain on the state budget, but there is a difference between fiscal responsibility and an assault on public schools. If the currently-successful public schools eventually do not function, which I believe is the only reason the General Assembly has proposed changes this drastic, our state will suffer long-term.
Master’s pay was an incentive for teachers to become better educated. Tenure (I do not pretend to think tenure is a system without flaws) allows job security for veteran and experienced teachers. Raises help teachers eat and live in townhouses with one less roommate.
* * *
One of my most consistent messages to my students was that of hope – I (maybe too) often wrote or said, “There is always hope.” I believe it now just as firmly as I did then.
I hope that our teachers make noise, and I hope it happens inside and outside the classrooms. I hope they march, I hope they dance, I hope they vote. Inside the classroom, I hope they teach with ferocity. I hope they are as insulted as I am and prove that they will not be broken,
That their resolve outweighs that of a group of agenda-driven men (I’m an agenda driven man, thank you) in downtown Raleigh.
And, if this budget comes to pass, let it be known that teaching will become an even higher calling in this state. One of the noblest.
* * *
Members of the General Assembly,
Do what you will and try not to be so upset when the public schools of North Carolina don’t fall into the ocean.