Senator Gene McLaurin visited Anson New Technology High School on Wednesday to observe classrooms and meet with school faculty and staff before heading to Raleigh for legislative session.
“With us going into session next week, I’m meeting with teachers to get their input on some of the issues being discussed,” he said. “A few of them are Common Core and veteran pay. And the decision to eliminate teacher incentive for master’s degrees — I have a real concern for it.”
He also listed teacher compensation as a priority. “I’m encouraged that there’s been an outcry from teachers everywhere.”
McLaurin said the purpose of the visits was to find out from the teachers what they think needs to be done. “I don’t want to just do what I think needs to be done,” he said. “I want to find out how I can make their jobs better.”
The senator said that he knows that improvements need to be made on Common Core, but that he is open to suggestions and is still looking at possibilities. “We need to make some improvements, but do we need to completely start all over? I don’t know. That’s why I’m here.”
After observing a classroom, McLaurin met with teachers and administrators from multiple schools. Before they began, he read part of an email from a teacher that had been sent to him and other representatives. The teacher said she was a six-year teacher who has received only one raise, and was in debt after earning a master’s. “This brought tears to my eyes,” McLaurin said. “It says, ‘Leave me alone. I’m so tired of being lied to about how important and vaulable I am.”
The teacher said that the low regard from the government translated into a lack of respect from both pupils and their parents, making the job even more difficult. “Even my students know no one cares about teachers, because they frequently ask why I’m a teacher, and I’m running out of answers. I’m embarrassed for you, embarrassed by you, and embarrassed to be a teacher in North Carolina.’”
After reading the letter, McLaurin listened as Anson teachers and administrators described situations similar to that of the teacher who wrote the letter. Across the board, the school employees described garnering tens of thousands of dollars of student debt to attain their degrees only to be paid low sums to plan and teach classrooms with little or no assistance, working long days with no bathroom breaks. They also said they work years without raises or improved insurance and retirement plans, and can barely make ends meet. Some educators said they are moving or retiring as they simply cannot afford to teach in North Carolina any longer.
Additionally, teachers apprised McLaurin of their frustrations with teacher evaluations being based upon students’ scores, as a number of factors can affect their pupils’ performance. “The dentist doesn’t get in trouble if you have a cavity,” a teacher said. “As a teacher, a child and parents don’t have to come to school, there’s no repercussions if no work is done, and I can’t make decisions or get the sheriff to force them.” The teacher said that parents should be made to attend parent-teacher conferences and be held accountable for tardiness, unexcused absences, and missed homework. Students may also perform worse in poor socioeconomic conditions, if there is family trouble, or for a number of other reasons, making them a poor standard of teacher success, the teachers agreed.
Poor incentives mean that North Carolina is drawing fewer quality teachers, the educators agreed. It also discourages a respect of the field. “Children need to think that education is important, but it’s hard when we’re some of the lowest-paid people around,” one teacher said.
New Tech principal Chris Stinson agreed. “Why in the world is it acceptable for someone with a four-year degree to be scraping for coins? Or someone with a master’s degree?”
McLaurin said that he plans to take what he learned from talking with teachers and students to his colleages in the legislature, letting them know what he has heard from the people who work in the school systems. As per one teacher’s suggestion, he also plans to ask them a critical question: if their children or grandchildren were planning on going into teaching, would they encourage them? Or would they advise them to stay out of the high-investment, low-paying field?
As he pointed out, he is only one of over 100 representatives, but he plans to try to improve matters, and hopes others will join him, promising that he will “argue, fuss, and fight” for the teachers. “Let’s go to Raleigh, roll up our sleeves, and get to work on a bi-partisan effort,” he said.