Thursday, February 27, 2014

Supporting North Carolina's Teachers Regardless of Political Affiliation

A friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook today of himself with several other people and Governor Pat McCrory. He was excited because the Governor had come to Franklin Academy, the charter school his children attend, and my friend had the opportunity to participate in a parent panel with him.

I try very hard to temper my opinions when it comes to social media. I really don't want to alienate friends and I realize we all have our differing opinions. However, I often also question exactly how much I should hold my opinions back and why I should do so.

It's tough. People post stuff to Facebook, so they're opening themselves up to criticism as much as they are to compliments, but let's be honest - it's really the compliments that we want and expect. Yet, a vital part of this country's health is founded on the ability to have lively and hopefully thought-provoking discussion and disagreement on a wide variety of issues and so, should I really hold myself back when it pertains to an issue that is very much in the news right now, and on which I am quite passionate in my opinion?

In regard to this friend's post I did, after some consideration, make the comment that perhaps the Governor might want to come to a public school and see firsthand the effects of his administration's policies, and experience what our teaching professionals thought about it. I mean, really, a visit to a charter school that isn't subjected to the same academic requirements and for which admission is totally based either on a lottery system or who you might know? Nothing more than a photo op. Big deal.

Of course, my comment generated an immediate response from someone, obviously a Republican, who argued that Wake County's problems preceded the current Governor (meaning she was blaming Democrats for all of the school system's failings), and went on about how hard she "fought" to get her kids into Franklin, and then went on to throw in a dig at the Common Core.

Whoah. Way to stay on point, lady. But isn't this is the problem with the dialogue today? Ignore the actual argument I was making (that NC teacher pay ranks at the bottom nationally, that the current administration has cut any incentive for teachers to pursue a master's in education, that veteran teachers still aren't going to get a raise, that our lawmakers bitch about our lack of academic excellence but refuse to fund that excellence, that the expectations of teachers are so drastically out of whack with reality), and instead make it about politics, and then go off on a tangent about things that have nothing to do with the specific argument - Wake County schools and Common Core.

It's nice, by the way, that this woman got her kids into a charter school Yay for her! I applied to some charters and magnets, but not being a particularly lucky person, I didn't get my number pulled out of the hat. I don't really think Franklin Academy is all it's made out to be anyway, and I wouldn't be proud of the fact that I got to jump ship from my local public school rather than support it. Way to be one of the privileged few sweetie. I also don't believe the Common Core is some liberal conspiracy designed to indoctrinate our children but that's a story for another post.

The fact of the matter is, previous administrations did fail to provide teacher raises, because the economy was in the toilet and doing so would have been fiscally irresponsible at the time. Today, the economy is improving and North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in terms of population. The Republican administration has the opportunity to really be groundbreaking in terms of its support of public education but through many well-documented missteps, it's decided to vilify our teachers instead, and throw the public education system to the wolves. What's the excuse right now for not reinstating routine pay raises? Oh, that's right - tax breaks, because they're more politically popular.

Here's an ugly truth - public programs like schools require government funding. Taxes are a necessity - they pay for our public services. If anyone - Republican or Democrat - really believes we can function as a society without government intervention in paying for these things, they are living in la la land.

North Carolina has ridiculously low property taxes. That's really nice, and I enjoy that fact. But, with the huge influx of people coming into this area, I think it's reasonable to take a look at increasing those taxes. We're talking a minute increase here folks - less that what you'd pay for a new 60" flat screen tv. And it would go miles toward improving our ability to fund education and restore faith in our teachers. And yet, no one is willing to float that idea. Why not? Does McCrory really believe we can continue to get by the way things are? Or is he just that unskilled as a politician that he doesn't have the chops to make a publicly unpopular thing happen even though it's necessary and right. A little of both, I think.

Look, I know there are bad teachers out there, but this vilification of the profession as a whole is ridiculous. It's time we started treating teachers with respect. They attend four years of college. Their office is filled with 20+ kids in various stages of discipline, various stages of treatment for social issues, with varying family situations, all of which impact their ability to successfully teach these kids. They teach underachievers, middle of the road kids, and overachievers. They are creative, tireless, enthusiastic, and they love what they do.

Are there bad teachers out there? Yes, there are. But it's time the principals bore the responsibility for them. After all, the principals interview them, make the hiring decision, and (should be) monitoring them for effectiveness. That doesn't always happen though. In fact, I believe a lot of the issues people have with teacher pay and how to effectively pay them on a merit-based pay system could be solved by refocusing our attention on the principals of the school and redefining their responsibility within the whole mix.

Individual teachers who are creative, who teach the curriculum in innovative ways, who reach their students even if those students don't perform well on the standardized test, who make their kids want to learn - those teachers should not be penalized because their class, as a whole, falls below some politician's predetermined benchmark for success.

But I digress.

I just get so frustrated when I hear otherwise educated folks, who would never NEVER stand for the type of treatment from their own employers that these teachers must put up with, stand on their soapbox and make this a political blame game, while ignoring some very obvious facts. And those facts are that we need to make education a priority in the state of North Carolina, and in the country, that we need to treat the teaching profession with respect, that we need to clean up the top heavy bureaucracy that encompass the school boards and the administrations. We need to stop arguing about the situation and DO something useful about it.

So, in all due respect to my friend, and to his legion of Facebook friends who will either silently nod their heads in agreement with Governor McCrory's policies or vocally disagree with me, I simply can't get excited about his elbow rubbing with the Governor at his kids' school, nor can I sit by silently and ignore the multitude of enthusiastic Facebook "likes" about it.

No comments: