I have been teaching in North Carolina for ten years, six years beyond what I promised in exchange for my training as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow. Since I first started teaching, back at the turn of the century, amidst the tobacco fields of rural southeast North Carolina, I have earned a master's degree, National Board Certification, and the title of Mommy. I have worked at traditional high schools, a redesigned high school, and an early college high school. I have taught Spanish and English, to classes from thirteen to thirty-two. I have lost students to car wrecks, dropouts, and jail. I've seen students go to Governor's School, travel abroad, and earn master's degrees themselves. I have snuggled teen moms' newborns and attended funerals with teen orphans. I have engaged with other educators across the country to improve my practice and fought long and hard with myself to find ways to reach more students in more meaningful ways.
I have accepted the responsibility for improving my own financial state when North Carolina teacher salaries ceased to keep pace with inflation or the growth of my family. I accepted my frozen salary and kept doing the best I know how to do, even adding the arduous National Board Certification process to my plate, and then a master's program, in the hopes of catching up before my eldest got to kindergarten. The 12% boost from National Boards, however, is mostly going toward taking care of my children's physical well-being and affording the commute required to get to my new school, since Spanish was cut entirely from my previous place of employment. I had hoped that graduating a few weeks ago with a 4.0 and an MA would mean I could afford to move closer to my current school and keep my soon-to-be kindergartener within reach in the event of emergencies or holiday programs.
Now, I fear I will have to abandon North Carolina public schools and take my son with me.
It's not that I no longer believe in the mission of public education. For our society to thrive, all children must have the tools to succeed and navigate life's challenges. To make children compete for quality education is anathema to my soul. I have seen my share of truculent teens and felt tempted to dismiss some entirely to make my life easier. But I can't do that. We can't do that.
We can't let developing minds be stultified because educating them isn't easy, or punish them because their parents did not choose paths that made private school tuition or even education a priority. We cannot make children suffer inadequate education because they are packed into overflowing classes from the time the bell rings on their first day.
North Carolina is proposing a budget that would cut over 4,000 teacher assistant positions, remove class size limits in kindergarten through third grade, freeze teacher pay for the fourth year in five years, and deny promised pay raises to those completing their master's degrees after December of last year.
This budget is a betrayal of teachers, parents, and young people. It is a betrayal of our future as a state and a society. These cuts are a move toward dismantling a system that is in place for the benefit of all.
I have worked hard for North Carolina public schools for ten years. I worked hard to earn my master's degree to be a better teacher and provider for my family. And my son starts kindergarten in the fall.
I will not let my son be a number.
My son is a growing person who needs attention, who deserves affection, even when I am not there to provide it. My son will learn the requisite math and reading skills wherever he ends up: Mommy is a teacher, remember. But will he spend eight hours a day with a single adult saddled with wrangling thirty five-year-olds? Could such an adult possibly have time to respond to his feelings and dreams, to tell and show him that his efforts matter, that his actions and intentions carry weight? Will my son just have to survive his day, just meeting expectations and avoiding causing problems in an overcrowded class? Is this the education that my son's little mind, his little heart deserves?
Is there any little heart in North Carolina that deserves that childhood?
Maybe his mommy should have worked harder and gone into a more lucrative field, moved up in the world. Maybe she should have stayed home to attend to his growth and development personally. Maybe she should go somewhere where education is guarded and children are treasured.
Maybe, maybe she will.