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.