NC teacher asks her colleagues: What would happen if we stopped enabling state leaders?

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Dear fellow educators of North Carolina,

Stop. Cry uncle. Cry foul. Just… make it stop.

I’m referring to part of Governor Cooper’s announcement on July 14 when he rightly stated:

“We know that schools provide so much more than just academic lessons… My mom was a teacher, as I’ve said many times. I’ve spent time with teachers in every corner of our state. It didn’t take a pandemic for me to understand that teachers are some of our most essential employees. Pulling from their own pockets to buy supplies, getting in early just to stay late, and even working extra jobs to stay in the profession that they love. In March, our teachers and school staff dove headfirst into the challenge of remote learning and meal distribution. They rose to the occasion. And now we’re asking them to rise even higher and dig even deeper… I know this will be challenging work for them, but I have faith in North Carolina’s teachers.”

But what if we just stop?

I don’t mean stop doing our jobs. I certainly don’t mean stop caring about students, or showing them we care. And I certainly don’t mean we should stop helping out individual students, at our own discretion, whenever we feel called to do so.

I mean what if we decide to stop “pulling from our own pockets” to purchase tissues, paper, pencils, notebooks, binders, markers, colored pencils, crayons, band-aids, dry-erase markers and anything else we’ve bought in the past? What if we decide not to spend a penny on the supplies (like hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, Clorox) that will be needed to follow the state mandates of “regularly cleaning and disinfecting classroom equipment” and following “key safety precautions” and “important safety protocols” designed to keep all of us safe this fall?

I’m a public school teacher in Forsyth County. I’ve never kept track of all the personal money I’ve spent on classroom supplies over the years, but I know it well exceeds the $250 amount we are able to deduct on our taxes each year. I’m tired of being thanked for doing this.

Honestly friends, what would happen if we all, right now, vow to never again use our own meager salaries to buy stuff for our classrooms?

Guess what: for years, we have been enabling our state legislature’s refusal to adequately fund education. And using our time to clean air vents, sweep floors, mop up spills from flooding, moving classroom furniture to avoid leaky roofs? NO MORE. Walk away. Leave it for someone else.

I get it. At this point, you may be thinking, “If I don’t do it, who will?” The answer to that is perhaps no one. We will have to leave these tasks undone in order to send the message that the state can no longer depend on us to do them.

I certainly don’t mind “rising higher” and “digging deeper” if it means learning new software, training in pedagogy, becoming familiar with the tenets of social-emotional learning, and any other aspect of doing my job my district deems important. Why does it mean we have to keep using our money and time for things our state should be providing for our students?

And trust me: there are expenses coming to handle this pandemic that no one is planning for. Just a small example: so the state is going to provide five masks for each student and staff member. Sounds great in theory, right? What if a kid comes to school without a mask because it was forgotten at home, or worse, what if a kid steals someone else’s mask? Is that fair? Nope. Am I going to keep a supply of masks at school, ready to handle this situation? Absolutely not. And you shouldn’t either.

This pandemic is our chance to stand up and refuse to take it anymore. I don’t know where the money will come from to comply with these new safety protocols, but I know it won’t come from me this time. Who’s with me?

Brooks Jones is a special education teacher in Forsyth County.

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