07TeachersOn Wednesday, May 16, I was privileged to witness our teachers, who rarely organize or complain, some 25,000 plus, come to our General Assembly to voice their concerns over what they perceive is the Legislature’s lack of commitment to public education.

Their visit left me with a plethora of thoughts and emotions. These wonderful teachers truly care for our children. Yet, they are reluctantly leaving the profession. They are going to other states to work. The teachers who are staying are frustrated and are very, very tired. The vast majority of them work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. They feel unappreciated and perplexed.

Despite their obvious concerns and presence, teachers were not dignified by some. There were those of the Republican super majority who chose not to meet with teachers and instead kept their legislative doors closed, hiding behind posters claiming how they had raised teacher salaries over the past three sessions. This was upsetting to teachers who simply wished to voice their concerns and ask questions of their elected officials.

Their questions:

“Why will they not speak with us?”

“Who came up with that $50,000 average salary figure? I am not making that.” The average pay for Cumberland County teachers is $41,000, which is $10,000 less than the claimed state average.

As I met with teachers who were literally lined up from the mall to the legislative building, I stopped and made inquiry with groups of teachers from various counties. I asked each group how many of them worked more than one full-time job to make ends meet. More than half acknowledged that they worked multiple jobs, such as working in factories, clerking at convenience stores and delivering pizza. One teacher spoke of how humiliating it was to deliver pizza to his current students.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 16 percent of teachers nationwide have a second job. Currently, 53 percent of North Carolina teachers have a second job. This same percentage placed us as third in the nation in 2011, and there has been no improvement since that time. Once again, we are first in matters we should be last in and last in matters that we should be first in.

Our teachers also expressed concern that our rapid accumulation of knowledge is exceeding our schools’ resources to prepare their students for such a pace. Technology will eliminate 50 percent or more of the current jobs. That is the bad news we must prepare for, as it is coming. The good news is 60 percent of our children will have an opportunity to land a job not yet invented.

According to futurist Gerd Leonhard, our children must be able to learn quickly, think critically, be flexible and adapt as mankind’s advancements and accumulated knowledge will soon double
every 30 days! What used to take centuries is now covered in a matter of days. Our accumulated knowledge accelerates proportionate to its advancement.

What does this mean for the leaders of the free world? If we are honest, North Carolina is near the bottom in every major category of educational funding. There are myriad reasons why, but we
have allowed ourselves to slip so far toward the bottom that it is considered by many to be a reasonable goal for us to achieve middle-of-the-pack status. This is being touted as excellence in education by both the Republican super majority as well as our state’s absentee superintendent of public instruction. However, the last I checked, middle of the road or middle of the pack is just what it is, mediocre. Our teachers are not buying it.

For 12 years, we have allowed our educational system to spiral downward. Those who know, those who are in the trenches, and those who are the professionals felt compelled to assemble and do what heroes must do. They organized, marched and insisted on being heard – they raised their voices in respectful but strong unison. They are saying to us just as loud and just as bravely as they can, “Enough. The time is now to pursue excellence.”

What does a top five education system look like? House Bill 888 (Professional Teachers & Administrators Accountability Act) is a great start.

First, it is not just paying teachers a professional wage, a wage that is commensurate with the difficult job they do. It starts with excellent preschools, which are the trigger for young minds to read and to be curious. It emphasizes reading throughout the elementary years but specifically mastering all reading during the first three grades. It is a classroom stocked with great textbooks, labs and internet and technology resources. It is principals welltrained to lead their schools, support their teachers and have their backs. It is young teachers assigned to well-paid mentors who set high standards and demand the best from their young protégées.

It is also a system that teaches parents to partner with their children’s schools and with their children to ensure they are receiving the knowledge and all that they will need for the jobs of the next century.

The critics will say, “Throwing money at a problem will not fix it,” or, “We don’t need to be the best – maybe just be top of our region.” To those I say, why don’t we lift up excellence as a goal?
Being mediocre is all but un-American; being less than mediocre is unconscionable. The price for our state to be in the top five of the nation is $100 a year for each citizen presently living in the state. An alternative way of financing this plan is to return our taxes to the 2015 levels.

If we are reluctant to put this program into place statewide, then shame on us. We have tried everything else – charters, vouchers, special school districts, etc. What we have not tried is being the best. I am certainly open to trying this global approach in six to eight different school systems throughout the state to see if it works – but try we must. Imagine our state with the best schools in the nation!

The next war on democracy will be waged on the battlefield of the mind. We are blessed to have so many members of our armed services here in North Carolina. Can you image sending those
brave men and women to battle mediocrely trained and equipped? Would we dare scrimp on their resources? Like our military, our children’s education must equip them for the battle of who controls knowledge, and with it, immense power.

 

PHOTO: Photo by Jose Moreno on Unsplash.

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