To say that the past year has been a whirlwind for public education in North Carolina would be an understatement. It started with a march on May 16th that shutdown schools for 75% of the state’s students and ended with the election later that year which broke the GOP super-majority in both the NC General Assembly and Senate. This ended the unchecked power of decidedly anti-public school legislators.
2018 seemed to be a year where teachers, and other supporters of public education, seemed to stand up and say, “ENOUGH.” Two weeks into 2019 had seen little movement in the country regarding public education. Was 2018 going to be the high water mark of the public education movement? Action in West Virginia, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Arizona saw thousands of educators in red to purple states push for respect, higher pay, smaller class sizes, and more resources. That being said, educators across the country know that not only is more needed, but that the actions in 2018 were not enough.
January 14th, the teachers in Los Angeles went on strike. 50,000 people marched through the streets demanding action. That strike is on-going.
January 18th, hundreds of teachers in Oakland, CA took the day to protest in front of their district offices, in an action that was not sanctioned by their union but shows the growing unrest among educators there.
Now, being a teacher and resident of North Carolina, I have been invigorated by the movements happening on the West Coast. I also wish that there has been more movement to help public education in North Carolina.
With this thought in mind, I traveled the approximately 35 minutes from my home in central North Carolina to the headquarters of the North Carolina Association of Educators in Raleigh. Not only had I never met any of the people that I was going to be around, but I had no idea what I was going to get myself into.
The day was spent networking with educators and supporters from across the state and looking at what was needed to make continued and sustained changes for our state.
As an educator looking at LA and Oakland, it is very easy to say that I like that idea and we should do that here! As was articulated at the meeting on Saturday (and this makes sense), we are not ready for any type of action like the ones going on in California.
While the march on May 16, 2018 was successful in closing schools for 75% of the state’s students and bringing awareness to the plight of public education in the state, those closing were in generally liberal leaning areas, with Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Durham, and Wake Counties leading the way, teachers in these areas had a general sense of security in what they were doing.
Many did not. My county vote for President Trump by an overwhelming margin and in the 2018 election shifted the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education to the right, highlighted by the election of a man who is a frequenter of many far-right websites. My county did NOT shut down for May 16th. There was no communication from my local NCAE unit and I am not even sure how many educators from my county went to the march. My best guess? 15. That might even be optimistic.
Do I want my pay raised? Yes. But that aside, we need nurses, social workers and psychologists in EVERY school. More guidance counselors and to allow the ones we have to do their job without additional duties.
We need FUNDING for smaller class sizes. NOT just for our elementary schools but also our middle and high schools.
We need to do away with high stakes testing at all levels.
We need respect.
What I gained from the Respect for Public Education Regional Meeting in Raleigh was a renewed sense of hope, motivation and security. I hope that educators will attend the ones in Asheville, Greenville and Charlotte in the coming weeks.
North Carolina, if we want sustained improvement in public education then we need better organization and communication. Not sure where to start? Buy a red shirt that adheres to your school’s professional dress code and wear it every Wednesday. Get your school friends to do the same. Next, join NCAE and become involved at the local and state level. Not only are the people friendly, but they are all fighting for the same thing. To better public schools for all involved.
We have to start somewhere.
EDIT: From Angie Scioli in the comments, “People can go to the red4ednc.comwebsite to find dress code compliant red clothing. We don’t make any money off the sales; we just want people to be able to wear red4ed without fear.”