Commentary, Education

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

Image: Adobe Stock

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.


  1. Stewart

    July 16, 2020 at 3:44 pm

    More teachers than most non-teachers would expect are right there with you, including me. Maybe doing tis will get some attention, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The real problem for all teachers in NC is that we have no voice unless we’re fortunate enough to work in the few districts that listen to their teachers at all (I do, but even there it’s only sometimes and often not as well as they should.) We have no collective ability to really affect policy. We’ve tried marching and showing the collective will of teachers, goodness knows. I’ve gone to the rallies in Raleigh and marched up Fayetteville Street with 10,000 of my fellow educators, but not a thing did we get from our state’s leaders except lip service. We are bound by laws that keep our collective voice silenced and it is long past time that these laws were challenged and overturned. We need real unions, real power to collectively bargain, real ability to affect our working conditions, real say in how much gets spent for our schools and what the state does to support districts if we are ever to be in the place where we’re not putting our own money to solving problems left for us by those in charge. That’s where we have to go, if we want our voice heard.

  2. Wow

    July 16, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    I’m a parent. I have never been a educator at school but I do plenty of teaching at home. I completely understand. Parents have shared the responsibilities of providing school supplies as soon as their child starts school which also includes tissues, lysol wipes, dry erase markers, etc and we cant claim this as a tax deduction. How about the yearly fee that we pay for our students to use the school provided resources (chromebook). What are our tax dollars being used for? We do have the choice to not buy these items. Or pay the fee but then our children are not only risking getting every germ that they come across but also not getting the best education that they deserve. I have never understood why the first item on the list to cut budgets from is education and teachers. To me having an education is just as essential as planning your next meal if you want to succeed in life. Better yet afford the next meal that your planning. As a parent i will support educators and make a stand.

  3. Jayson

    July 16, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    This exact type of issue is at the heart of the idea of defunding and reallocating funds that are predominately sanctioned for law enforcement.

  4. Joyce Compton Brown

    July 17, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    It’s part of a long tradition of devaluing teachers and their professionalism. Goes back to the traditional view of teaching, in NC and elsewhere as “women’s” work, with its expected sacrifices of decent salaries, personal expenditure, and professional recognition. I doubt teachers will stop spending their own money because without these supportive materials their jobs are even harder. I’d propose a greater stoppage. Don’t go into those classrooms until and unless your demands for safety and needed support, including TAs, space, upgraded air conditioning systems, are met. I remember the disrespect shown by our legislature. Now they’re asking teachers to risk their lives and those of their families. Politics above education and logic.

  5. Kathleen Wheeless

    July 18, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    I completely agree. The answer: public WILL must change. Voters must understand the importance of funding education. Starting with support for competitive teacher salaries…really HIGH salaries that bring in and keep great teachers. How do we bring about this change? UNITE. Act up. Educate voters and then VOTE for candidates who will legislate the needed funding. Local and State-level Elections are key. Organize at the local level. The money is there.

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