Under the Dome

GOP superintendent candidate criticized for comment on teaching

Primary contests in down-ballot races can be sleepy affairs. The GOP contest for state education chief has turned into an exception.

Candidates J. Wesley Sills, a teacher from Dunn, and Mark Johnson, a Winston-Salem lawyer, have criticized a third candidate, Dr. Rosemary Stein, for remarks she made about teaching at a GOP forum in late January. The three candidates are competing in the Republican primary to be the nominee for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Sills and Johnson say Stein belittled the profession. She said she didn’t.

Candidates were asked to respond to the question, “How do you return teaching to teachers and the local superintendents?”

Stein responded by talking about cutting ties to the federal government - not taking federal money for education and ending adherence to federal regulations. “We see droves of teachers leaving because we’re not letting them teach, even though teaching is not that difficult,” she said. “Like I said, teaching is natural to the development of the child.”

Sills, a high school social studies teacher, posted a video recording of the entire forum on his Facebook page.

In a statement released soon after the forum, Sills said he was disappointed in Stein’s view of the teaching profession.

“In the best of circumstances, in the best conditions, with the best students, teaching is a hard profession,” Sills said. “This is why teachers, especially Republican teachers, are frustrated and feel abandoned by politicians. We are asked to positively impact the life of a young person, to work hours we are not compensated for, spend our money on supplies, and then told by non-teachers that it is not that difficult.”

Stein said in an interview that teaching was not meant to be difficult, but “all the processes, all that administrative stuff teachers have to follow” discourage them.

About 10 percent of K-12 spending comes from the federal government, not including money for child nutrition programs.

Johnson, who taught high school in Charlotte for two years as part of Teach for America, said Stein’s remarks at the forum were an example of someone who will say anything to get elected.

“I’ve experienced how difficult teaching is,” Johnson said in an interview. “The challenge are real and very difficult because bureaucrats are making it worse by adding more paperwork for teachers, more testing.”

Incumbent June Atkinson is running for a fourth term. She faces school administrator Henry Pankey of Durham in the Democratic primary.