I need to begin by saying that I am always in favor of teachers advocating for themselves. The way public school employees, from principals to bus drivers, are treated in North Carolina is shameful. Having worked in the Durham Public Schools for eleven years, on and off, over the past sixteen years, I am well aware of all of the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things happening in our schools. Raising two children who attended DPS while I was single mom for seven years and living in debt because I barely get paid for the 60 hours I work each week has not gone unnoticed.
I am beyond thrilled that teachers are even thinking about advocating for better pay in North Carolina, so please don’t get me wrong when I say what I am about to say.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018. For those of you who are not aware yet, this is the day when (so far) over 35% of Durham Public School teachers have opted to take a Personal Day, a day without pay, in order to attend a rally in Raleigh to advocate for better funding for our public schools. I consider myself a strong and steady advocate for public schools. As a public school teacher, I certainly advocate for higher pay for teachers. I have always been an outspoken advocate for my profession and I always will be, but I am not in favor of closing schools on May 16 to go to a rally in Raleigh. Here’s why.
I am aware that other states have been finding some success with teacher strikes recently; however, a one day rally is drastically different that a several day strike. There is no reason why May 16 will be a magical date to change any elected officials mind about how much they value children or public education. There will be no legislative action on that day. Most of them do not care if there are 80 or 8,000 teachers in a rally in Raleigh. The only way to make changes is to vote them out. That will not happen on May 16. The percentage of teachers who do not vote is extremely disappointing. If we want to contribute toward change, then we need to vote. We need to educate our fellow teachers and parents about the importance of voting. We need to expand our educating from the classroom to educating about elections to churches, parents, business owners and the classrooms in our schools with teachers who do not take the time to vote.
This year I chose to teach in a low performing school and that has, unfortunately, affirmed for me, the many facts about the needs of so many children and families in Durham. Sadly, for me, our current DPS administration highly prioritizes test scores (I get why, but do not agree), and yet, this decision would mean losing an instructional day that could hurt our chances of improving scores. Does one day make a difference? Some people feel that it will not make a difference. They say to send work home with students. Really? Then, why have school at all? Depending on the students in your school, it really can make a difference. We count every minute we are with our students as vital time for learning. For many of them, staying home one day actually does disrupt learning. It also affects their eating and sleeping. Re-adjusting back to school the day after a closing disrupts learning for the majority of our students. You may not believe me, but that just tells me that you are not in touch with reality for so many of our students in Durham. Our students are proud of their accomplishments, in and out of school, and they often need to work harder than others to beat the odds and barriers placed before them to achieve those accomplishments. Why would we want to add another barrier within the last weeks of the school year?
In my opinion, the timing of this rally could not be worse. Although there is never a convenient or perfect time for activism, I wonder if organizers have considered the fact that lower performing schools are under a tremendous amount of pressure to “perform” right now, and losing May 16 as a school day is losing an instructional day for 33,000 students. Then there are the factors of rescheduling the school day, rescheduling exams in high schools, rescheduling end-of-year professional development, finding ways to feed children and make sure they are in safe environments on May 16, and on and on.
I understand that the DPS Administration is charged with working on a plan to try to take care of this, and I also know that they have now been disrupted from their jobs as a new administration trying to prepare for the 2018-19 school year. I appreciate that there are faith organizations and PTA’s trying to organize ways to get food and child care for children so their parents can go to work that day if schools close. Honestly, we need you all year, not just one day in May. We need tutors, mentors, snacks and school supplies for students every day. It may not seem as exciting, but it will benefit our children tremendously. Let me know when we can talk about that too.
The NC General Assembly has used public education as a pawn for years. Every year during budget talks, it is public education issues that get thrown in the face of the voters as part of budget cuts, and every single year, they vote against supporting public education. Rally or no rally. They vote for unfunded mandates. They vote to dismantle public education. I am all for letting our voices be heard, but the answer is not a one and done rally day. We have a better chance if public school employees and parents to get educated about their elected officials, old and new, and to get out and vote. And take someone else with them.