Teacher Appreciation Week: Here’s what this teacher wants

Update: This post was originally created in May of 2019. Unfortunately, we have seen none of these changes. This is still what I want for Teacher Appreciation Week.

Tomorrow starts Teacher Appreciation Week! Some teachers will no doubt be taking advantage of everything from discounts at retail stores to free food at restaurants. Others will be inundated with gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Target. Still others might receive a small, handwritten note or just verbal kindness that actually means more than anything that can be bought with money.

We do not become teachers for the gifts that we may or may not get this week. That being said, those gifts we might get are nice.

If we are being honest though, if someone wants to actually show their appreciation for teachers this week here’s a list of things that would do that, specifically in North Carolina:

  1. A government who actually supports my profession, not one that does a terrible job at hiding their hatred for it
  2. Enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards
  3. A $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees
  4. Expanding Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families
  5. Reinstating state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017
  6. Restoring advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013
  7. Funding for smaller class sizes
  8. Funding for textbooks and/or technology such as chromebooks
  9. A renewed cap on charter school expansion which is draining money from our public schools and exacerbating segregation.
  10. Ending the grading of our public schools based on asinine test scores
  11. The end to high stakes standardized testing
  12. Funding to complete much needed maintenance on our aging buildings
  13. A salary that will allow educators to not need to work multiple jobs to support a family.
  14. Restorative practices that will help students stay in school instead of continuing the school to prison pipeline.
  15. Calendar flexibility that fits our local needs.

Is this everything? No, but it would be a good start.

An Open Letter to Those Who Vote Against Closing Schools for #AllOutMay 1

You have shown your true colors.

Dear Local Board of Educations,

This letter began as thoughts swirled in my head in the hours after my local board of education here in Lee County voted to alter the 2018-2019 school calendar to make May 1st an optional teacher work day in response to the amount of public school workers who had put in for the day.

The conversation in the lead up to the vote in my county swirled around the safety issue that had been created by the amount of substitutes that were going to be needed for the day and the fact that there was the very real chance that students would be put in danger on the morning of May 1st if (or when) people called in sick.

I’ll be honest. I understand why you do not want to close. It’s close to testing. While most everyone these days can agree that testing is harmful to students it is still a large factor in our choices because of the pressure put on districts to get our students to succeed on them. Personally, that pressure we feel is part of why I will be in Raleigh on May 1st.

That being said, with the amount of leave forms that have been turned in over the past month or so, that was not the discussion that was being had at this meeting.

The discussion as mentioned before, came down to safety.

Safety for our students.

At that point, your personal feelings about the politics about the day, which have been and will continue to be discussed ad nauseum, do not matter. Your sole concern should be safety.

So why is it.. that when your Superintendent and head of transportation tell you that they are not comfortable with having school on May 1st, would you still vote against turning it into an optional work day?

That was the case in my district. The vote was 5-2 in favor of the calendar change.

To the 2 votes AGAINST the change.. if you had won the vote, then what? Did you think that far ahead? Or did you just want to score cheap points with your base, which is increasingly shrinking?

You lost any moral high ground you may have perceived that you had when it came to talking about the safety of our students.

You say that May 1st is political theatre. I disagree. That being said, your vote against changing the calendar was political theatre. The difference? May 1st has a good chance at making positive change for our students. Your vote, just showed how out of touch you are and how political you have made the Board of Education.

May 1st, I will be rallying to support our students and school systems who desperately need help.

When you are up for re-election, I will be rallying voters to vote you out.

In a way I should thank you, for you have shown your true colors.

Sincerely,

Dane West

This Fight is For Everyone

Those of us advocating for #AllOutMay1 cross the political spectrum, we range from left to right. Red to blue. Democrat to Republican.

The narrative of those who wish to attack #AllOutMay1 is that the organizers are a bunch of far-left radicals. A bunch of crazies who are using children to further political goals.

That attack is patently false. Those of us advocating for #AllOutMay1 cross the political spectrum, we range from left to right. Red to blue. Democrat to Republican. There is no single label that could easily fit the entire spectrum for those of us righting for public education.

The truth of the matter is that this movement for our public schools is a broad fight, a fight for everyone.

Looking at our goals should make that obvious. Let’s revisit them again for a moment.

▪ Providing enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and other health professionals to meet national standards.

▪ Providing a $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, a 5 percent raise for all school employees and a 5 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees.

▪ Expanding Medicaid to improve the health of students and families.

▪ Reinstating state retiree health benefits for teachers who will be hired after 2021.

▪ Restoring extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees such as a master’s degree.

The map above is taken directly from a report put out by the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. What I found most striking about the map? The higher the percent of people without health insurance, the more rural the county. That right there should disprove the narrative that this is a far-left, urban movement. Expanding Medicaid would actually disproportionately benefit our rural, right-leaning counties. As educators, we know the importance of our students being healthy. Students that are not healthy have a hard time learning. That is why I so strongly believe in expanding Medicaid to my students and their families. My county, Lee County, sees between 16.7-18.2% of our people without health insurance. Translated to my classroom – that’s almost 20 students.

The more urban counties such as Durham, Wake, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg have more resources to use which allows them to provide a bigger supplement for teachers, offer a higher hourly wage for ESPs, and more funding for librarian, school nurses, school counselors, and others. These points that we are fighting for is important because we are fighting for state funding for these issues. Our more rural counties do not have a tax base that would allow for a competition with the urban areas.

Do our urban counties have issues of their own? Sure. However, the issues for #AllOutMay1 are not just an urban agenda. They are an agenda that everyone should be able to support.

This is not a partisan agenda. This is a pro-public education agenda. One that is needed to support all of our students.

Teaching and living in a rural county I understand that this can be scary. Educators, we have to take the leap. If we do not take it now, we will be facing the same problems 15-20 years from now and it will arguably be worse.

Take the leap, you’ll have thousands of people supporting you.

Who says we don’t have a union?

We’re a union just by saying so.

When I moved to North Carolina during the summer of 2017, one of the first things that I was told was that since we were a right to work state we did not have unions. I accepted this at face value for the vast majority of my first year in the state. I spent a lot of that time living in fear. While I had good relationships with the people in my school building, I still felt like I was living in a culture of fear because there was nothing bigger behind me. Coming to North Carolina from New Jersey, that was a part of teaching that I did not expect as teachers in New Jersey benefit from NJEA which is quite strong.

May 16th changed a lot of things for me.

From little Lee County, I saw school district after school district shut down. I saw thousands of teachers and other public school advocates flood the streets of Raleigh, demanding better for our students.

I was inspired. I was also surprised. If we did not have a union that how the heck did May 16th happen? I would be remiss if I did not recognize the work that groups such as North Carolina Teachers United (NCTU) and Red4EdNC did to get advocates out on May 16th, but I also realized that NCAE was our union in North Carolina.

Anti-union activists will say that unionizing is illegal in North Carolina. That is false. While NCAE and other labor groups do not have collective bargaining, those groups are still unions. They still bring people together for a purpose.

This year NCAE’s common purpose is in the form of fighting for five goals:

▪ Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standard,

▪ Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5 percent raise for all school employees and a 5 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees.

▪ Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families.

▪ Reinstate state retiree health benefits for teachers who will be hired after 2021.

▪ Restore extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees such as a master’s degree.

I am a big fan of the musical, Newsies, and I cannot help but feel that some of the themes in that show are applicable to our situation in North Carolina. When thinking about our fight in North Carolina I think about the song from that show, The World Will Know. North Carolina teachers, here’s a shorten version for us.

JACK:
Berger and Moore, they think we’re nothing’. Are we nothin’?

TEACHERS:
No!

JACK:
Berger and Moore, they think they got us. Do they got us?

TEACHERS :
No!

JACK:
Even though we ain’t collective bargaining, we’re a union just by saying so.
And the state will know. What’s it gonna take to stop the bleeding? Are we ready?

TEACHERS :
Yeah!

JACK:
What’s it gonna take to stop the starving? Can we do it?

TEACHERS :
Yeah!

JACK:
We’ll do what we gotta do until we break the will of mighty Phil and Tim.

TEACHERS :
And the state will know. And the counties too.

JACK & DAVEY:
Mister Berger and Tim, have we got news for you.

TEACHERS :
See, the state don’t know know, but they’re gonna pay.

JACK & DAVEY:
‘Stead of teachin’ history we’ll be makin’ it today.

TEACHERS :
And our ranks will grow,

CRUTCHIE:
And we’ll kick their rear!

TEACHERS :
And the state will know that we been here.

JACK:
When the school bell starts ringing, will we hear it?

TEACHERS :
No!

JACK:
What if the privatizer’s come out swinging? Will we hear it?

TEACHERS:
When ya got a hundred voices singing, who can hear a lousy bell blow?
And state will know that this ain’t no game,
That we got a ton of knowledge and perfect aim.
So they gave their word. Well, it ain’t worth beans.
Now they’re gonna see what “Close the schools” really means.

Ladies and gentlemen. We are a union just by saying so. Get your personal days in for May 1st. Feel scared? You have thousands of teachers standing behind you.

Senator Hise Please Re-Read Our Demands

When my students misunderstand the question or the assignment, I have them re-read what is being asked of them. Based on the News & Observer Article put out today the deputy president pro tempore, Senator Ralph Hise, should probably do the same as well.

When my students misunderstand the question or the assignment, I have them re-read what is being asked of them. Based on the News & Observer Article put out today the deputy president pro tempore, Senator Ralph Hise, should probably do the same as well.

Senator Ralph Hise

According to the article, those of us in NCAE “are paying dues to fund NCAE leadership’s far-left political vanity projects.”

There’s a lot to unpack here but let’s first break down the beginning of Hise’s statement above.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary when used as an adjective the word vanity is used to describe something that is done with the aim of getting praise, fame, or approval rather than for serious or good reasons.

Now that we are all working with a common definition let’s move on. On one hand, where exactly is the project that we are undertaking solely for fame, praise or approval? On the other hand, why do you so quickly assume that this day of action was seemingly forced on us?

Is the vanity project the demand that North Carolina get to the nationally recommended ratio of students to school counselors of 1:250? As of April 2018, we sat at 1:386, and that does not take into account the times when counselors are pulled for other duties such as lunch duty. Or is the vanity project the fact that the same article cited above puts North Carolina at 1:2,100 for school psychologists, this when the recommended ratio is 1:700? Or maybe it’s for more school nurses as less than half of the school districts in North Carolina meet the recommended ratio of 1:750. The National Association of School Nurses goes even further advocating for one school nurse in every single school building, something that my school district, and most others in North Carolina, are unable to provide.

Or maybe Senator Hise thinks the vanity project is advocating for our Educational Support Personnel (ESPs) who work in our schools every single day helping us support our students. Did you really think we would forget when you left them behind and did not give them an hourly wage of $15? They are just as much a part of our educator family as anyone else working in our public schools.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he thinks the vanity project is advocating for the return of more pay for advanced degrees, something that actually has bipartisan support in the North Carolina General Assembly right now.
Senator Hise, you should want as many highly educated people to be teaching the future of North Carolina as possible. As it currently stands there is no reason for any teacher in North Carolina to go out and continue their education to earn an advanced degree. That costs money, and if we are not going to receive more compensation, why should we truly bother?

I suppose the vanity project could be us demanding that those hired after 2021 earn health benefits when they retire, something that was taken away in 2017. If Senator Hise thinks this state has a problem retaining or attracting teachers now, just wait until it makes it insanely difficult to hire people after 2021.

Later in his comments to the News & Observer, Senator Hise said this, “Apparently recognizing that Republican leadership has been great for teachers and students, the radical left-wing NCAE added Obamacare Medicaid expansion to its list of demands,” Hise said. “If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: The NCAE is a far-left political organization that uses the teachers and students it purports to represent as a tool to advance its leaders’ unrelated political agenda.”

It is truly telling, that the Senator does not see or understand the importance of healthcare to education. If my students are not healthy, they cannot learn. If my students are unable to get their medicine for ADD, ADHD or anything else, they cannot learn. If my students cannot get glasses they cannot learn as they cannot see. So you see, the expansion of Medicaid is extremely important to education. Oh, and North Carolina is one of only 13 states who have not yet expanded Medicaid.

Towards the end of his statement, Senator Hise says, “North Carolina teacher pay has grown at the third-highest rate in the entire country over the last five years, and teachers absolutely deserve it.” Thank you Senator for recognizing that we deserve our raises. However, just about every teacher would agree with me when I say you have a lot of work to do still. Not all of us work in the counties with a 15+% supplement. We will never, as the pay scale currently sits, average the approximately $53,000 the average apparently is in this state. Even in those higher supplement counties, the cost of living is higher than in other places so those supplements while nice, do not stretch as far as they may seem. Take a look at the state pay scale again and you’ll understand why it is not just the liberal counties looking to march on Raleigh on May 1st.

To conclude his statement, Senator Hise said, “Yet the NCAE leadership is still calling for a strike on May 1st.”

Senator, NCAE leadership called for the day of action on May 1st. That being said, just because they called for it does not mean the delegates at the convention had to support it. They could have voted against the motion. Instead, they overwhelming voted to proceed with the day of action. It seems that you are a little unsure how a representative assembly functions, in which case I am concerned because of the position you hold in our state.

Hopefully you will understand soon but if you need some help, I am sure there are going to be plenty of social studies teachers in Raleigh on May 1st who could give you a refresher course. Maybe you should listen to them.

Senator Hise, we love our students. We love our colleagues. This is not a vanity project. We would must rather be helping our students grow into responsible citizens. Sometimes, you have to teach through modelling. May 1st, we will model what happens when the government does not listen to the citizens it represents.

I’ll see you on May 1st, with thousands of my closest friends.

Public School Advocates: It is still personal

It was only last year on May 16, 2018 that public school advocates of all walks of life flooded the streets of Raleigh with 30,000 of their closest friends. Teachers, parents, administrators, and ESPs marched through the streets telling the state government that enough was enough and changes needed to be made.

At the 49th Annual NCAE Convention, it was determined by the Representative Assembly, that our legislators still have a lot more work to do.

May 1st.

On May 1, 2019, the NCAE Representative Assembly is calling on public school advocates of all stripes to take to the streets of Raleigh once more.

Why? Well here are the demands as passed at the Representative Assembly:
1. $15 minimum wage for all workers in schools, 5% raise for all teachers, ESPs (classified staff) and administrators, including a 5% COLA for retirees.
2. Hire enough social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses and other health professionals to meet nationally recognized student-to-professional ratios.
3. Expand Medicaid to cover 800,000 more North Carolinians.
4. Reinstate retirement benefits for educators joining the profession after 2021.
5. Restore pay for advanced degrees.

Five issues, one day. May 1st

This is about so much more than a raise. A raise is needed though, especially for our staff members who did not receive a raise with the rest of state workers therefore still make below $15 an hour.

Not having enough social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses and other professionals is an enormous stain on North Carolina’s education system.

You do not realize how important having a school nurse in every building, every day is until you do not have one. It is hard to understand how important the school counselors are until you cannot send a student to talk to them because they have lunch duty.

Paying more money for an advanced degree is a no-brainer. What incentive do educators have to spend thousands of dollars on a degree other than a Bachelor’s Degree if they will not be compensated? There is none.

So many of our students would be covered by the expansion of Medicaid. If my students are not healthy, then they cannot learn.

By not giving retirement benefits to those who entered the profession after 2021 will further dilute and suppress the amount of people willing to enter the field of education.

Last year, public school advocates sent a message to Raleigh telling them they would remember in November if significant changes were not made. They held up their end of the bargain, literally changing the faces in the General Assembly.

This year they are coming back. It is still personal. We still demand action.

I was not there May 16, 2018. I will be there on May 1, 2019.

My message to legislators? Stop crawling, start running. My students deserve immediate changes to our education system here in North Carolina.

Public Education and Politicians: A Warning

Ignore the letter next to the names on the ballots and vote the issues. Our kids deserve it.

In much the same way that I habitually go back and forth with my lesson plans, I spent some time being indecisive with the title of this post. It is well-known that public education is a complicated issue. How much testing is too much testing? Should the school day start later then it currently does? Is homework viable in a society that is backsliding to a time where children are expected, and needed, to help families make ends meet for a multitude of reasons? Those are all topics that have been and will continued to be discussed in detail but that is not what I will be focusing on.

No, today the focus will be on the politicians who support public education, or so we think, and how discovering who those politicos are is not as simple as looking at the letter of the political party beside their name on a ballot.

My interest in this topic was piqued when reading about the strike that was conducted by the teachers in Los Angeles this month. Similarly to many urban areas across the United States, the LA area is liberal, voting for Democratic candidates by overwhelming margins. How is it then, that the teachers of Los Angeles felt so disrespected and unheard that they had to resort to a strike? Strikes are not something that occur lightly, and any teacher will tell you that they hate doing anything that could harm the education of their students.

We first have to look at the Superintendent in Los Angeles, Andrew Beutner. Beutner was pushed through by the charter school lobby in a vote by the School Board that featured the swing vote being cast by a member that had already plead guilty to a variety of charges including money laundering. Shortly after the vote he resigned, leaving the board deadlocked between members who were funded by the charter school lobby and those who were not. A wealthy individual, Beutner has donated predominately to Democratic politicians. Beutner is not the only individual in blue California to have seemingly supported charter schools to the detriment of the public schools in California. Back in 2016, then California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased charter school accountability and transparency.

Moving on to my home-state of New Jersey and we see once again Democrats involved in the movement to privatize education in cities. While NJ Senator Cory Booker has become a darling of Democrats in the Age of Trump, he had a decidedly… uneasy relationship with public educators while Mayor of Newark, with the Newark Teachers Union even opposing him in his 2010 re-election bid. Charter school enrollment in Newark skyrocketed from 2008-2018, from approximately 10% of students to 33% and is project to reach 44% by 2022. While it is true that charter schools perform better than the public schools in Newark by approximately 25%, the public schools also serve a significant higher amount of English Language Learners.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, despite all this evidence I was surprised this week to see on Facebook a post from the Democratic mayor of my town here in North Carolina, Chet Mann. As a relatively rural district in central North Carolina, it appears (from this teacher’s view) that we are struggling for funding and this was even before this charter school opened this year. Two-thirds of my school is dealing with class sizes averages approaching or over 30 students. We also are no longer 1:1 with technology and some classes are not even 2:1. It was for that reason I was shocked to see this post. As a constituent, of course I commented on the post saying in part, “Everything this charter school has our traditional public schools deserve. To celebrate this while the majority of Lee County students are expected to do more with less seems shameful.” The comment was deleted from the Mayor’s post within five minutes of it being posted. To rub salt in the wound, the next morning, I awoke to find out that another charter school will be opening within the county in 2020.

You see, educators, it is easy for us to fall into a trap, that all Democrats support public education and that we must vote against Republicans because they do not support public schools. You can draw your own conclusions from this post, but the hope is that you will realize the importance of doing your own research on candidates for public office, just as we would want our students to do.

Ignore the letter next to the names on the ballots and vote the issues. Our kids deserve it.

NC Teachers: We have work to do

North Carolina, if we want sustained improvement in public education then we need better organization and communication.


Supporters in Raleigh for the Respect for Public Ed Regional Meeting on Jan. 19, 2019

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.”