NC teacher: Why I’m marching tomorrow (and why you should too)

By Greg ChildressI am a North Carolina teacher.

With each passing day, I am inspired by the voices of my professional colleagues and community in the Brunswick County Schools, New Hanover County Schools and throughout North Carolina.

Tomorrow, for the second year in a row, I will join thousands of supporters of public education as they peacefully converge on our state’s capital.

As you may have heard, five policy priorities are set for tomorrow’s day of advocacy and action: 1) establishing a $15 minimum wage for all school personnel and a five percent cost of living raise for school employees and retirees; 2) meeting national standards for support staff like psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and librarians in all schools; 3) expanding Medicaid to improve the health of students and their families; 4) reinstating retiree health benefits; and 5) restoring compensation for advanced degrees.

But there are other important reasons to stand up and be counted tomorrow. For the past several years, I have been particularly interested in teacher leadership and the inclusion of student voices for school improvement. Recently, through my studies in this area, I’ve come to realize more and more how closely connected teacher leadership and high-quality school experiences for all students are. I understand that this link is one of the reasons so many educators (as well as other stakeholders, like parents, administrators, policymakers, and citizens) have been moved to interrupt their daily routines to travel to Raleigh on May 1st. I also understand why participating in this day of advocacy on a school day as compared to participating on a Saturday or a day in the summer makes a bigger statement. We need your attention.

The Center for Teaching Quality, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and the National Education Association have developed “teacher leadership competencies.” The four areas include instructional leadership, policy leadership, association leadership, and overarching competencies. In regards to policy and association advocacy, in our NC Professional Teacher Standards we are expected to “lead the profession” and “advocate for schools and students.” We are evaluated as either developing, proficient, accomplished, or distinguished at these elements.

Unfortunately, the value placed on teacher leadership is mostly limited to the realm of instruction. This is a rather simplistic view of teachers’ contributions and capabilities and it is sustained by a preoccupation at all levels with standardized test scores in specific subjects (including extra pay for performance for some). While some structures and pathways for teacher leadership exist, few are formalized, and North Carolina and its local districts have a long way to go to integrate the second most vital voice for the success of our students into decision-making (the first most vital voice would be the students’).

Still, influential teacher leaders from various backgrounds in North Carolina are beginning to see the value in how much stronger we are when we work together, remain transparent, and share the same message about educational policies and experiences. Teachers from Manteo to Murphy are finding our voices in realizing that collectively, we do have the capacity to change the narrative about public education and the direction of its future.

Of course, the responsibility for advocating for the teaching profession and for public education in general should not solely be placed on educators’ shoulders. Having a high quality, supported, and valued education profession is critical to our students’ future and the future of our state. When businesses spend money or homeowners purchase a house, they see it as an investment in the future. Why does it seem that public education is not seen this way?

Simply put, public education needs support from all corners of our community. If, in your heart, you support and stand by those who will march for the five published priorities, I am calling on you to use your voice. Post on social media about why you understand and support tomorrow’s march. Email, call, or write your legislators. They need to know that their constituents support public education, and not only that they will trust and support the teaching profession, but that they will advocate for it too. Have individual conversations. Even better: Come to Raleigh! Most importantly, think past May 1 and about how we continue to advance and strengthen our students’ educational experiences in North Carolina so that we create first-rate public schools for all of our students.

Sincerely inspired by teachers & supporters of education in NC,

Kayce Smith is a doctoral student in Education Leadership at the Watson School of Education at UNC Wilmington and a Spanish teacher at South Brunswick High School.

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