Education

Op-ed: Want to inspire NC educators? Make sure the next state Superintendent has a strong teaching background.

State superintendent Mark Johnson made it official last week: He aspires to be North Carolina’s next Lt. Governor.

And as Johnson prepares to move on, veteran educator Justin Parmenter writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that the successor to the office needs to have a strong teaching background. As Parmenter explains:

‘As a classroom teacher who has been in North Carolina schools for nearly two decades, I can tell you that our state’s educators would most like to be led by someone who understands firsthand what they are going through — a teacher.

Strong employee morale is essential to a thriving public education system. The morale of educators in North Carolina started rolling downhill with the Great Recession and picked up speed when changes to the composition of our state legislature in 2010 opened the door to many education policy initiatives that have harmed our schools. It hasn’t since had much opportunity to improve.

When the relatively unknown Johnson eked out an election victory in 2016, he did bring a bit of teaching experience to the table. However, it wasn’t a resume that inspired a lot of confidence in teachers. Johnson had taught just two years at West Charlotte High School with Teach for America before leaving the profession for law school, reinforcing criticism of TFA as a stepping stone to elsewhere.

Throughout his tenure as state superintendent, Johnson has been deeply unpopular with many North Carolina’s teachers. He’s criticized thousands of educators who have come to Raleigh to call for increased support for public schools the last two Mays. His personalized learning initiatives have marginalized teachers and downplayed the importance of the human connection between teacher and student in the learning process. These and his many other missteps are undoubtedly rooted in a classroom perspective deficit.

At the federal level, education leadership has suffered from the same problem. According to a poll by Education Week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has the rare honor of being even less popular with teachers than her boss, Donald Trump. Respondents cited her lack of experience working in public schools as the main reason for their dissatisfaction.

If our next superintendent is to inspire confidence in North Carolina’s teachers, he/she needs credentials that demonstrate a firm grasp not just on policy, but on practice. That firsthand understanding of teaching and learning can only be developed one way: through extensive work in the classroom. A leader whose background allows real empathy with teachers will be more inclined to make sound decisions on their behalf and to involve them in those decisions, leading to a level of buy-in on the part of educators that has been sorely missing under Johnson’s leadership.’

Read Parmenter’s full opinion piece in the Charlotte Observer.

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