On May 16th, We March For The Schools Our Students Deserve

We love your children. We know their sweet quirks and what sets them off. We can get them to giggle and we know when to let them cry it out. We teach them how to read. Helping to raise a community’s children is a physically challenging and deeply emotional task. It’s hard work.

But doesn’t have to be as hard as it is right now. Educators in North Carolina have endured a decade of cuts to public schools, and it’s taken a toll. Our co-workers have left for other states or left the profession entirely. We’ve taught with thousands fewer instructional assistants. We’ve taught as voucher programs bled our budgets. We’ve taught inside aging building with cracks, mold, and lead paint. North Carolina’s educators have shown up and we’ve dug in and taught. But we can’t dig any deeper.

We need reasonable class sizes that allow for individualized attention. We need the tools required to help our students read, write, reason, compute, create, and build community. We need our co-workers, the ones that do this job so well, to be able stay to stay in our schools and help us grow. We need more copy paper. Our students deserve to walk through our our classroom doors healthy and leave thriving.

For our students to thrive, however, educators must thrive.

We need economic stability, not a second or third job. We need quality health care, affordable housing and confidence that we can retire in dignity. Everyone needs these things, but most people don’t have them in North Carolina. Educators and students spend our days fighting battles that politicians set us up to lose. That isn’t an accident. There are people who make decisions about our schools, our students, and us. On Wednesday, May 16 we are going to make sure these decision makers see us.

Being a public school educator in North Carolina can feel deeply disempowering. Most of our co-workers leave the profession, succumb to cynicism, or retreat into their classrooms to “control what they can.” We have been worn down. For many people, just putting in a personal day feels like a risk, even though we are legally entitled to them. That’s how powerless we have become.

Photo by Celia Ortega on Unsplash

Our potential power, however, is limitless. Public schools are the number one employer in 58 of the state’s 100 counties; and the second- or third-largest in 39 others. There are roughly 180,000 people employed in public schools in North Carolina and roughly 1,500,000 students enrolled in public schools. Imagine if we acted together every day.

If 2018 results in any wins for public schools, it’s because educators showed their strength. If we see more dismantling of schools and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, the General Assembly’s leadership has declared its priorities. On May 16th, they need to publicly name their position: which side they are on?

The dismantling of public schools in North Carolina didn’t happen in a day, and sadly we know we won’t leave Raleigh on May 16 with the schools that our students deserve, no matter what happens.

We need more money per student, a professional pay scale with raises for all educators, emotional and physical health supports for our students, functional and safe infrastructure, and an and to the plunder of our budgets through tax cuts. All of these things are possible, and then some.

In one month, North Carolina’s educators went from being relatively quiet to defeating fear, intimidation, and cynical attempts to shame us. In leaving our classrooms and our students for one day, we are standing up for them and each other.

This transformation wasn’t magic, it was organizing. It was relationship building, connection making, information sharing, data gathering, training, coaching, failing, and succeeding. It is both an art and a science, and it always aims towards creating change for our schools and our communities.

But change doesn’t happen in a day. More than anything, May 16 represents a commitment to improve our own lives. We must keep that commitment on May 17, throughout this summer’s budget fights, at the ballot box on November 6, and every day beyond. No one is going to give us anything. We have to get organized and go get it. Our students, our co-workers, and our families are worth it. So are we.

Let’s demonstrate and celebrate our strength on May 16. We need every educator, parent, student and community member to put our legislators on public notice and tell our stories. Let’s commit ourselves to organizing for a future we deserve. Let’s win for our students and for each other.

Tamika Walker Kelly is in her 11th year as an elementary music teacher and is vice president of the Cumberland County Association of Educators.

Bryan Proffitt is an 11 year veteran high school history teacher serving as the president of the Durham Association of Educators