Anja Sheppard: Fight for our teachers

06/18/2014 12:00 AM

06/16/2014 6:46 PM

About a month and a half ago, my eighth-grade grade social studies class learned about Archibald Murphey.

In the early 1800s, North Carolina was christened “The Rip Van Winkle State” for its lack of progress. North Carolina had no ports, no canals, no functioning trade routes, no exports, and no public schooling.

Murphey’s mission was to establish an educational system funded by state money. He also wanted to build transportation routes, which would help to bring North Carolina up to speed with other states.

Sadly, none of his ideas were taken seriously until after his death in 1832. In 1835, North Carolina started with a reform of the state. A public education system was built with government funding, and North Carolina flourished until the 21st century when huge budget and salary cuts were made for schools.

At Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill, I often see the direct effect of low teacher salaries: extremely low morale.

Teachers are working long hours after school to plan rigorous lessons and keep up with an ever-increasing workload. End-of-Grade tests and final exams increase the stress of students and teachers alike. The scores of their students’ are unfairly used to evaluate and rank teachers, often pitting them against one another. The new tests are inflicting more strain than ever, as scores are expected to be lower this year because of higher standards and more challenging questions.

Another consequence of decreasing budgets is overcrowding.

With more and more homes being built in Chapel Hill, and no new schools being constructed, we are overcrowding our schools. This year Smith Middle School is 100 students overcrowded. Many students get a milk crate rather than a locker once space has run out.

How did we get here?

How has our school funding gotten so bad, that we can’t afford to buy desks or lockers for all students? More importantly, how can we change this?

Many teachers have responded by moving to other states in order to be able to pay off school debt and support their families. Chapel Hill is an expensive place to live and in many cases teachers cannot afford to live here. What incentive is there for our best teachers to stay when they could earn $10,000 more per year in Virginia? That’s $300,000 over the course of a teacher’s career. Our amazing teachers are slipping out of our grasp.

Some of the teachers that do decide to stay here have a tragically low morale. Decreasing salaries and often, a sense of a lack of appreciation, causes our teachers to feel unneeded and neglected. They wonder, “Is this what I’ve worked so hard for? Does education really matter?”

North Carolinians, we need our teachers. Advocate for change. Show appreciation for our educators. Tell others about the problems. Elect someone that will fight for our education. Spread the word.

Our public school teachers are miracle workers, but they are barely staying afloat.

They have taught us much. Now we must fight for them.

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