RALEIGH — The day Haley Brown gave notice that she would quit the career she loved, her husband, Matt, handed her a letter.
She opened it and cried.
Brown, an elementary school teacher, had been in the classroom for seven years. She adored her students and fellow teachers.
And she loved moments like this: “Seeing the light bulb go off. I think that’s why any teacher gets into teaching, because that’s the best feeling, seeing them so interested and engaged and finally getting it ... and knowing that you made a difference.”
Unfortunately, she said, there were fewer and fewer such experiences. It seemed as if testing had taken more of her energy and robbed the students of meaningful instructional time. The number of teacher assistants dwindled. The workload kept growing, but she had received only one automatic raise and a 1 percent cost of living increase in seven years’ time.
The letter from Matt Brown said he understood why she was giving it up. And he was glad.
That heartfelt note became a post on Brown’s blog. Soon, it had gained 1,200 “likes” on Facebook.
It seemed to have meant something to people, so Brown said he figured he’d send it in to the editorial page at The News & Observer, which subsequently published it on Oct. 12.
As of Wednesday, the opinion piece was the most popular story page on the newspaper’s website in 2013. Half a million people have read it – most who found it through Facebook – and more than 600 have commented, said Eric Frederick, managing editor of newsobserver.com
‘Crazy ... in a good way’
In an interview this week, the Browns, who live in Raleigh, say they have been overwhelmed by the response.
“It’s been crazy, but in a good way,” Haley Brown said. “I just had no idea it would go this far. I just figured a couple of people would like it and say, ‘Good for you,’ you know, and that would be it. It’s really just been unbelievable.”
She’s received hugs of support. Parents of former students have been in touch. Fellow teachers have echoed her sentiments – some saying they wish they could do the same thing.
Haley Brown wasn’t after the attention. She wouldn’t name the school or the district where she teaches. She only said she has taught in three different schools in two school systems during her career. She will leave in November for an administrative position with a homebuilding company.
A spokeswoman for Wake County Public Schools said an employee named Haley Brown is a second-grade teacher at Briarcliff Elementary in Cary. Before that, a Haley Brown was employed with Johnston County schools, a spokeswoman there said.
Wake County School Board member Christine Kushner isn’t surprised that Matt Brown’s missive went viral. Kushner said she hopes it serves as a wake-up call to the community and the state.
“Teachers I talk to tell me they’re working harder than ever,” Kushner said. “I think they also feel less appreciated than ever, and less valued.”
Kushner said she worries about the long-term impact of the state legislature’s recent moves to end teacher tenure and higher pay for those with master’s degrees. Years of no raises hurt morale and make teachers want to give up, she said.
Teachers wearing red T-shirts have protested the legislature and events attended by Gov. Pat McCrory. Some have suggested a walkout one day next month.
“I’m concerned about Wake County’s and the state’s ability to recruit and keep (teachers),” Kushner said, “and I think that’s reflected in that spouse’s frustration.”
Matt Brown, who works at a bank he declined to name, said he didn’t intend his essay to be political, though some have taken it that way. The situation was bad under the previous Democratic administration, he said, and the Republicans now in power have not done anything to improve it. Each party seems to blame the other, he said.
‘One thing after another’
All he knows, he said, is what he watched his wife go through: getting to school early, staying late, bringing work home, giving up all her personal time.
“I’ve seen over the years how Haley’s been burdened with just one thing after another, and every year they add something additional to it that occupies hours or days at a time,” Brown said. “Her time doesn’t increase but they expect more out of her.”
Haley Brown said she looks forward to getting her life back.
“When I leave on my last day, I will be so relieved that I will not have the burdens and the pressure and the stress of teaching,” she said. “So it’s a bittersweet thing. I am sad. I really do love my students and the people I work with, but it’s just time to move on.”
She doesn’t mind that her husband’s note morphed into a public testimonial.
“Teachers are hardworking people, and we’re dedicated,” she said. “But it’s time that people knew what is really going on.”