Point of View

Why the NC teacher walk-in was a frustrating failure

November 6, 2013 

WALK IN8-DN-110413-HLL

Handmade hearts were given out during a statewide teacher walk-in rally in Durham.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

I’ve walked on Moral Mondays, I’ve worn red on Wednesdays and I walked in to school on Monday. My profession, school and classroom are underfunded, and although I’m ranked highly on all levels of evaluation, I am still being paid as a first-year teacher. My story is similar to thousands of others: I’m a public school teacher, and I’m frustrated.

However, as frustrated as I am with lawmakers, I’m more frustrated with the state of the teacher movement.

On Monday morning, I heard the same frustrations, the same speeches and the same rhetorical devices that have been used for the past year. Litanies of “Forward together, not one step back,” “That’s just wrong,” “This is our state” and others. All formulaic, repetitive and quickly becoming meaningless.

Similar to the Occupy movement of past years, the teachers’ movement has numbers but lacks clear goals and possible solutions. Monday morning’s Walk in 4 Education failed because it provided only more of the same. I get it, the public gets it, the lawmakers get it: We’re mad. Now is the time for real, direct, noticeable action, and Monday morning falls far short.

There is one silver lining: Moral Mondays, the walk-in and the rallies this week show that teachers can organize. That is something lawmakers should fear. Although right now our organization seems to be a self-glorifying pity party, with the right direction and focus on voting in the future, this could end up being a very powerful force for change.

But when it comes to direction and real solutions, few have them and fewer support them. The complaint that is constantly restated is low funding for teachers, technology, books. We need more money from our government.

The solution is simple. No one supports it, and none will campaign on it, but we need new taxes. If you want good teachers, you have to pay for them. Economic complaints deserve economic answers. Moralizing and politicizing this problem will lead us nowhere.

Until we stop relying on the same hackneyed litanies of the past year, nothing will change, schools will suffer and I will remain just like all the other teachers in the state: frustrated.

William Tolbert is a teacher at Durham School of the Arts.

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