Op-Ed

A Dear John letter to North Carolina from a fed-up teacher

I have been a teacher for 25 years. I decided to become a teacher at the age of 28 after working in the car business, insurance business and the investment business. I went back to school at 28 – with a husband, a 2-year-old and a mortgage and gained a degree in mathematics and a certification to teach 9-12.

I paid off my student loans over 10 years, working two jobs to make ends meet. During some of that time, North Carolina “loved” me and “respected” me. It treated me with respect and attempted to reward me for my efforts. I have lived through ABCs, endless EOCs, No Child Left Behind and now Common Core. I have always tried my best to educate “our” children to the best of my ability.

How has North Carolina repaid me for my efforts? It has denied me a living wage. It has taken my longevity pay, incorporated it into my regular pay and told the public that it gave me a raise. It has put a piece into my evaluation that includes my students’ test scores as a measure of my “effectiveness.” But North Carolina doesn’t know my students! It doesn’t know the ones who have missed 60 days this year, the ones whose parents were murdered, the ones who had a friend commit suicide. It doesn’t know what they have fought just to be at school, hungry, without supplies. It doesn’t know those who didn’t have a ride, who have parents (or no parent) who don’t care.

The state doesn’t know how I have fought to get a young man or woman to look me in the eye when speaking, to shake a hand firmly. Or how much I’ve had to teach them about life before I could teach them math! It doesn’t know how hard I have worked to build their self-esteem, to teach them to react appropriately to criticism, to walk away when confronted by those who want to cause trouble.

I have taken this responsibility very seriously, and I have honored it. I challenge anyone to ask any student I have taught over the years, especially the ones I have battled. They have never let me down. But North Carolina has. It told me by its actions that it doesn’t value my service. It is taking away benefits that I thought that I could count on, even though my “pay” was less than my peers in other careers. It has revoked the benefits of future teachers – longevity, possibly health care, tenure – and it is working on mine even as I approach retirement and have counted on those things.

North Carolina wants to bring in jobs. I “get” that. But we can’t build an educated, well-paid work force if our education system is No. 49 in the nation. Please understand that making business “attractive” in North Carolina with tax breaks will not work if the businesses see that North Carolina’s education system is deficient. No business will move workers here if it feels that children cannot get a good education here or that it can’t find educated workers here.

North Carolina, I love you. I’ve spent my whole life with you, but I fear that we’re gonna have to break up. You don’t care about me anymore. You don’t care about anyone who is in public service below the legislative level. And, as Dr. Phil says, “The only thing worse than spending 25 years with someone who abuses you is spending 25 years and one day.”

Is this what North Carolina wants?

Blaine Maples lives in Rockingham.

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