Op-Ed

As 15th first day of school nears, teacher weighs leaving NC

ehyman@newsobserver.com

When I was a newly minted North Carolina teacher, I was chosen as one of the speakers at my Master of Arts in Teaching program’s commencement ceremony. I told a story about my beloved grandmother, Esther, who, growing up in deep Appalachian Virginia, dreamed of becoming a kindergarten teacher. She laughingly remembered sending off for a brochure from Northwestern University’s School of Education. She thought that was funny because that kind of education and career were so unlikely for her from where she was starting out.

My grandmother never became a teacher, but she bequeathed that dream to me. I ended my graduation remarks with the assertion that teaching is a privilege.

I still believe that teaching is a privilege. To do work that gives me the opportunity to help a child on his or her path, even a little bit, makes me so happy. A lot of things, however, have changed in the past 14 years.

I trained as a teacher in a cohort of 18 social studies teachers, several of them North Carolina Teaching Fellows. This year, there are four teachers in training in the social studies cohort of the same program.

As I enter my 15th year of teaching, I’m thinking hard about this year possibly being my last in a North Carolina school. A colleague told me that although she doesn’t feel “done” with teaching, it doesn’t make financial sense for her to continue in the classroom after this year. I’m not sure it’s in my own interest to continue as a teacher in this state. After this year, I’ll be halfway to retirement. If I don’t leave soon, I’ll be so far into the system as to make the difficult decision to leave even harder.

The trouble is, some state lawmakers and the proponents of privatization standing in the shadows behind them seem determined to dismantle the system in which I’ve invested my time and work. My trust was broken with the passage of the 2013 budget, and it’s only been eroded further since. If North Carolina were suddenly flush with public money, I don’t trust that the current majority in Raleigh would invest much of it in North Carolina’s public schools, students and teachers. If I stay, I’m not sure what will be left at the end of my career.

So, as I prepare to welcome my students back next week on my 15th first day of school, I’m wondering whether it might be my last as a North Carolina schoolteacher. My grandmother’s dream of teaching is still my dream. It’s what I chose to do years ago, it’s what I trained to do and I’m good at it. I’m just not sure North Carolina is the place for me to continue my dream job.

I also have the feeling that forcing experienced teachers into making these kinds of calculations is exactly what the folks in Raleigh who made this mess intended all along. It’s not a good feeling.

Jen Painter lives in Carrboro.

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