An Open Letter to the State of North Carolina regarding Teachers

To the Editor of the News & Observer,

An Open Letter to the State of North Carolina

It is with great happiness that I report to you that yet another distinguished teacher has left her career with the North Carolina Public School System and has chosen rather to be employed by a company in the private sector. I am happy, not because I desire the public school system to fail, but because that distinguished teacher is my wife, and now, after nearly seven years of watching her passion for teaching turn to dread, she is free to live her life unburdened by the oppressive hands of incompetent legislators and school boards who wish to micromanage education without actually getting involved with the people in it.

It is a harsh criticism, but it is an accurate one, for far too long have legislators and school boards had their disparate hands meddling in the pot of education. Their unreasonable ideals and their desire to transform every child into a number and statistic have resulted in untenable policies and a back-breaking number of tests. And as each passing year of new policies and tests fails to deliver the results that they desire, rather than reform their thinking and return to the drawing board, they create new policies and new tests and pile them on top of the old ones. They, with the raising of a hand and a stroke of a signature, applaud themselves for their feigned ingenuity without thought or regard for those who will have to bear the burden of it.

Those who do bear the burden of their “ingenuity” are teachers like my wife and, consequently, the students whom they teach. For these people, who create such policies as differentiation (which is just a fancy word for throwing students of all academic levels into a single class so as to preserve the precious self-esteem of those at lower levels), do not realize (or do not care to realize) that in the effort of preserving the pride of the few they cripple the education of all. For rather than a teacher having to prepare to teach a single class (which is difficult enough), she is given several classes thrown into one and is expected to determine the level of each student and then to create work and lessons tailored to each individual student. And while this might sound like a wonderful idea to some, the reality is that teachers neither have the time nor the resources to meet these demands. So rather than having the somewhat customized education that students used to receive when divided into classes by ability, the more-able and less-able are now both educated at the level of the average, so that the less-able are still left behind and the more-able are brought down to the level of the average.

In response to such complaints, some say that teachers simply need to work harder. Such people are fools. For such people are clearly not acquainted with a teacher, for, if they were, they would know that teachers are some of the hardest working people. These do not have to see their teaching wives come home from work every day and spend the rest of the night laboring over lesson plans and grading schoolwork. They do not see their dining room tables covered in papers that their wives could not grade at school because their planning time was displaced so that they could give new assessments or play the substitute for the physical education teacher who called in sick. They do not see their wives turning down social activities on the weekends because they have progress reports to complete. They do not see them pulled away from teaching their classes for hours and days at a time, standing in the hallways of schools, and frustratingly giving assessments to individual students on devices (viz. iPads) that were not designed to be used for such assessments. And these do not see their wives periodically breaking down in uncontrollable sobs because of the ever-increasing amount of work that is thrown upon them and the effect that it is having on their teaching their students.

Furthermore, to add insult to injury, the State of North Carolina has not one time since my wife has been teaching given teachers the pay increases that were promised to them. In fact, they have been given no pay increases except for a single, one percent pay increase a couple of years ago. Given that the average rate of inflation over the past ten years has been 2.3%, by not giving teachers pay increases that at least match the rate of inflation, the State is essentially saying to them, “We will expect more and more of you with each passing year, but your services are worth less and less to us with each passing year.”

Yet, for some reason, the general public seems to be okay with this. There seems to be among them this ingrained notion that teachers are somehow charity workers and that they should not be concerned about their pay. Now it is fair to say that no one enters into teaching to become rich, but, for God’s sake, teachers should at least receive compensation that accords with the salary for which they originally agreed to work. The value of our money today does not equal its value in 2007, but teachers are expected to live on salaries that have been deadlocked in the past. These teachers have families to feed, mortgages to pay, student loans to manage, etc., and yet the State expects them to survive on less and less each year. Our teachers deserve more.

In spite of this, I am glad to be one husband that will not have to continue to watch his wife live in incessant anxiety throughout the school year. I am glad that I will no longer have to console her when the papers are stacked to the ceiling or when report cards are due to go out in a couple of days. I am glad that I will not have to bear witness to another new year with another new assessment and another new policy that further removes my wife from teaching her class just so that some politician can have another metric on a sheet of paper. I am glad because I know others aren’t so fortunate. Some teachers have vested so many years into their career that leaving now would mean forfeiting their retirement. Unfortunately for them, they have almost no choice in the matter, and maybe the State is counting on that. Nevertheless, I count myself and my wife fortunate in that she can still leave while she can, and I’m sure that many will follow her, just as many have preceded her, to the utter shame of the State of North Carolina.



Categories: Miscellanies

45 replies

  1. Well said!

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  2. I am soon to be another one leaving the profession after 13 years. So sad.

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  3. I'm another teacher in NC leaving after 16 years 😦

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  4. I have been teaching over 20 years and desperately want out; but as you said; it's not easy. I feel for you and your wife and actually cried when I read this. It says a lot for all of us who dedicate our lives to the profession that is put down by so many who just don't know.

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  5. Thank you for the letter for all the teachers and school staff out there. I fear, as usual, it will fall on deaf ears to the ones who are capable of making a change. I'm mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted but I'm trying to hang on. I long for the days when school was fun, exciting and full of quality learning. Now I dread my days of test, test ,test and prove it over and over. There's nothing wrong with assessments but at some point you need to actually teach to make progress. But, again, thank you! God Bless your wife in her new endeavor and I am excited for your family.

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  6. As the wife of a teacher, it was hard to read this. My husband was wrung out by the system, but hasn’t been able to find that silver parachute of the wonderous private-sector job that pays him what I think he’s worth. So to keep us afloat (I’m a state employee, the other whipping boy of NC, so my paycheck is neither all that great, nor is it going up any day soon), he is still looking at teaching. The job he wants so desperately to love that has treated him so poorly.

    And it was hard because so many of your generalities are ‘wives.’ Not every teacher is a married woman, and not all legislators are married men. (Just think of the one whose baby is less than a month old.). Yes, the teachers who are wives deserve consideration – right along with the husbands, the single parents, and the young graduates who are bound to get ground up and spit out.

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    • With respect, give him a break. It was a heart felt open letter regarding his wife, whom he obviously loves very much.

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    • Thanks for your comment, and I'm aware of the language I used. It was more for the sake of writing style and connecting it with my real experiences than it was for the sake of trying to literally capture situations that effect every single teacher regardless of sex. I am dependent on the reader to interpret these generalities.

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  7. Great letter, you said what I've been listening for all along, the state has failed to pay teachers according to the pay scale promised when they were hired. I am an older adult who stayed home with my boys while they were growing up, teaching 3/4 year olds at my church preschool. I took classes along the way and actually started teaching when our youngest was a senior in high school. We did without so I could be home with them, but put all 3 through college, 2 of which are now special education teachers and are married to teachers. I have 11 years in and am sad every day, sad for the students, sad for society and sad for myself and fellow educators! I LOVE teaching, but anguish each day with thoughts of leaving a job I love. So few in this world can actually say they love their job, but I DO. It pains me to see what is being done to our students through all of this. I suggest that no one is allowed to make laws and regulations for the school system unless they themselves have been a teacher for at least 5 years. So now I go, off to the job that I LOVE with so much PAIN!

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  8. My wife and I are ten year teachers. We both want out. We can't afford to be teachers anymore.

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  9. Very well written.

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  10. My wife is a teacher in Florida…rather, WAS a teacher in Florida. I refused to let her endure the agony of another year. I'd rather be poor and have a happy, healthy wife, than have extra cash – that ends up being used to pay for ulcer treatment.
    She has been teaching for 25 years, mostly in the schools with 100% of students in Free Breakfast/Free Lunch.
    Thanks for writing this. So many folks think teachers work 8-2 and have summers off.

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    • I too was a teacher, in Texas. I also left the profession and my husband and children greatly enjoy the happier, healthier wife with less cash.

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    • Thanks for sharing. It is true that from teaching you learn quickly that money isn't all that it's cracked up to be. And it's sad how people think so little of the work teachers do.

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  11. I too was a NC classroom teacher that has enough and left the classroom 9 years ago. No matter what I did, awards I brought to the school system, and positivity that came from classroom, the interference in my professional skills from those that had absolutely no educational experience destroyed what I once loved. Many of my colleagues are leaving and yet no one sees there is a problem. Until folks rise up and demand better and are willing to put in the work to make it happen, education will continue to suffer.

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  12. Thank you all for your comments and for sharing your experiences as teachers and as those who know teachers. I would have never guessed that this post would have struck such a chord. This response only goes to show that this experience of teachers (not only in North Carolina) is not the delusion of a few but is rather common and so is an indictment of the system as a whole. Let's hope that some day soon the people who govern this country and its schools will wake up to the real concerns voiced by people such as yourselves in education. Grace and peace. Matt

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  13. This is an awesome letter! I left teaching 3 times during my career. To be honest, I went back b/c of the insurance. I am so happy to be retired now. I talked to legislators and school leaders from Maine to Florida and in North Carolina and Georgia. All the respnses were the same. "You only work 6 hours a day and babysit". True statement! The controlling men in the legislature have no idea what we must endure, especially in these trying times! It is just too bad that North Carolina teachers are too afraid to have a "sick out" to wake the genberal public.

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  14. This is so very true. As I read this letter I realized that my wife and I are living this exact situation. I recently convinced my wife, who was a NC school teacher, to find another line of work. It's sad that someone who is so talented and has spent so much time preparing for a lifetime of teaching, (2 bachelors degrees and a Masters degree that she will complete in 7 days), is not going to be able to put them to the intended use. So many lost opportunities to teach the children and help them blossom into productive young adults, all because of a broken system…

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    • That is very sad. I hope that her work for her degrees will pay off in another field. Oftentimes employers do not care so much about the degree you have, but the fact that you have the discipline (as your wife evidently does) to start and finish degrees. Best of luck to you both.

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  15. My daughter is a student teacher. She has such a passion for teaching, but got put into a teacher's class(who is supposed to be her mentor) who obviously hates her job. I don't know if she is just burned out, but it is sad to take it out on a young person who was born to teach. My daughter is a strong person who will love your children and help them want to learn. I just hope this teacher doesn't ruin it for her or take her passion away. I do realize that teacher's work a lot more than they get paid for. I have another daughter who has taught for 5 years and loves her job. This country just keeps putting more on teachers to teach " for the EOG" test, not counting how much stress they put on the children. My age group was accountable. We didn't have to spend the first 9 weeks and the last 9 weeks reviewing for test and we turned out OK. Hope your wife finds another passion. Sounds like we lost another great teacher.

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    • I hope your daughter does well. My wife is a great teacher, and one would almost say that she was born to teach. However, with each passing year, teachers teach less and less and become more facilitators than teachers. I wish your daughter well, but the reality is that she may well find her passion and determination sapped from her in a couple of years. I hope not, but I have to say I'm not too positive on the matter.

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      • Thank you. I am hoping that she does't burned out. I think this is going to be a learning experience for her so she will know what kind of teacher she does't want to be.. Hopefully when the time comes, she will be a great mentor for young people entering the profession. It is such a shame to treat others as she has been treated. We need good teachers and seasoned teachers with a heart to help train our young people. It's no wonder so many parents are home schooling their kids now. Thank you again for your kind words. Good luck to your wife.

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  16. As a former teacher and reading specialist in Wake County, I agree with your statements. I wish the legislators and others who make the decisions about children's education truly understand how their decisions impact others especially the teachers. Teachers deserve to make as much as any sports player that is on t.v.!

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  17. Wow! Thank you for your heartfelt letter! You said it all! The only way anything will change is if the community at large gets involved. Unfortunately for us all this lack of knowledge of how the school REALLY works will show up in our communities as unprepared citizens struggle to acquire jobs and interact with others. I fear that the quality and knowledge needed for a successful society will not be there, thus, more people struggling to survive and depending on the government for help. We will ALL suffer if something doesn't change drastically. I have been a teacher for 20 years. I love my children and hoped to make a positive difference in their lives, but don't have the time or the resources I need . The forms to be filled out in triplicate and the new and revised tests just keep coming!

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  18. I resent the PE teacher comment… I read it as saying the PE teacher is a waste that is just to give classroom teachers breaks. Yes some PE teachers are roll out the ball go play waste of time teachers just like some classroom teachers but not all of them.

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    • Please know that the comment regarding the PE teacher was not a slight against them. It is merely that in some districts teachers have their planning periods while their children are doing things such as going to physical education, and, when the PE teacher calls in sick, rather than call in a substitute, they make the teachers fill the role of the PE teacher instead in order to save a buck. I apologize for the confusion.

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    • I heard that it was the PE teacher who was absent on that day. It could have been any teacher of any subject. Although the state allocates monies to pay substitutes, school systems seem to want teachers not to be absent (even when medically necessary) and principals' hands are slapped if monies are spent for substitutes. PE teachers are just as important as other teachers.

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    • I didn't take it as a slight at all. I have covered off for absent teachers while still having my own classes to plan for and teach. Covering off really throws a wrench in a teacher's plans when he/she planned to use that time marking or photocopying for an upcoming class. Just happened that PE was what was chosen to write about.

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    • I think he meant that all too often, when someone is out, a sub. isn't called and all educators, including PE, art and music teachers, are expected to cover, to help out and be a 'team player'. I truly don't think it was a derogatory statement against PE teachers. As a teacher myself, I've been expected to play the role of medical professional and administer oxygen, clean feeding tubes and change catheters. Luckily, I know my rights and have a great NCAE rep. who backed me in saying NO.

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  19. I have 21 years in, a Bachelor's degree, two Master's degrees and an advanced Masters degree. I make 48,000 year, or about 65% of what a UPS driver makes.

    I'm out.

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  20. What will happen when the exodus of our most talented, motivated, and industrious teachers finally occurs? It is imminent that it will happen. I have been a retired high school teacher for 5 years, and, as my colleagues have told me, I got out at a good time. I loved teaching, and I taught with some amazingly talented folks who inspired and challenged their students. What is there in today's educational setting to attract equally talented young people to the teaching profession? I am afraid the pool of teacher candidates in the future will not be as deep as in the past, not as talented, motivated nor inspired. Those with characteristics like that will be off to other, more rewarding, more financially lucrative careers. North Carolina, and all other states which have neglected their teachers for so long, will pay for many years…and the U.S. may never recover from it. Our value system? What do we see professional athletes, celebrities, and frivilous-lawsuit receive for their "services"? And what is their lasting impact on America? Compare that to teachers, and the lives they inspire (or not, if they are no longer capable of mustering the energy).

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  21. The interesting thing that I keep noting in all the comments, commentary and other news feeds is that there is a perception that many of the elected "leaders" of our state or country actually CARE about the educators…..I am not certain that is an accurate "assessment". After 24 years in the classroom, I have forsaken ANY hope of a living wage or recognition by those in Raleigh for following this career. However, when a parent stops me at a football game or a former students drops me a note thanking me for what "we" did for their child or them, while it may not pay the bills, I can at least take solace that We are still making a difference.

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  22. I happily joined the private sector after five miserable years in Nashville Public Schools. I couldn’t be happier. Welcome your wife back to the side that enjoys life again. Sad but true.

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  23. Just a reminder for the teachers. You have voted for years to keep the Democrats in control of the state of NC and continue to do so. Not saying the Republicans are doing any better, but if it was so bad, why continue to vote for the very people who were not helping you? The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing expecting different results.

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    • You instantly turned this into Dems VS Reps and you didn't even assert that one would improve this situation over the other.
      What is your point? The insanity thing?
      Anyway, thanks for reminding us, Einstein..

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      • If you read my comment, it had nothing to do with dems vs. reps. it simply asked the question of why continue to vote for the status quo that was not producing the desired results. When you don't change something you get what you voted for. Personal opinion is the fault is not in the teachers or a particular party, the fault is a society that does not value properly raising children with discipline and morals.

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    • I think the recent change in regime just further demonstrates that the blame doesn't rest on one party but on the government as a whole.

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      • Welcome to the world of having a philosophy you don't agree with crammed down your throat. At this point we can become like our Federal Government that prints money out of thin air or staying within our budget and doing the best we can Or rewrite the Lottery law such that instead of simply funding the current budget, all of it gets poured into education and the general assembly can't put it to other pork barrel crap. A lottery law that was written by the Democrats might I add.

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      • My apologies, I read your comment wrong. See my comment back to Preston. In a world where a child that misbehaves and is corrected by a teacher, to only have that parent complain about the teacher and not backing the teacher, something is way wrong.

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    • The Democrats did poorly, and the Republicans have done worse. Next time around, I'm voting to go back to poorly.

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  24. My wife is 15 years in and I could not think of any better way to make your points. Sadly, it’s not only the teachers and the classroom that suffer. Real life stress, medical conditions and home life are all affected by the travesty that has become the NC public education system.
    With lack of other opportunity I suspect we will suffer it out for the next 15 years.

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  25. I left after 17 years and I have never regretted leaving. Fortunately, I tripled my salary, got to eat lunch when and where I wanted to do so without cafeteria duty, no morning or afternoon bus duty and did not work long hours at night. I also got to go to the bathroom when I needed to do so – I did not have to wait until lunch or after the students left for the day. It is a shame the way teachers are treated. Who do you think educates the lawyers, doctors and those highly paid athletes? Priorities are wrong when it comes to supporting our teachers!

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  26. A PERTINENT, MEANINGFUL, NECESSARY AND OH SO SAD LETTER . I AM THE CHILD OF A TEACHER AND THE MOTHER OF A TEACHER AND TO KNOW THEIR WORLDS ARE SO VERY FAR APART NOW IS SHAMEFUL AND FRIGHTENING. KEEP SPREADING THE WORD….OUR NATION IS BEING SHORT CHANGED AND IS IN PERIL. BLESS YOU TEACHERS, SOLDIERS FIGHTING FOR THE FUTURE.

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