Why I Support Every Teacher Going to Raleigh on May 16th and You Should Too!

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Ten years ago I moved to North Carolina to teach. I quit my internship with a Fortune 500 company in Ohio, sold all my belongings, and drove my Ford Focus seven hours to the Queen City. I had no family or friends in the state and that didn’t matter. I was a black girl who grew up in public schools in Columbus, Ohio were teachers changed my life. I was determined to replicate the impact great teachers had on me. 

My salary as a first year teacher was $33,000. I was paid once a month. After taxes, retirement, social security and health insurance, my take home for the month was a little under $2000. I slept on an air mattress for two months. Once I saved up enough money for a mattress and bed frame, it was all the furniture I could afford. I had no living room furniture and a dining room set was absolutely out of the question. I had no cable because I couldn’t afford a tv or the extra bill. Gym membership....nope. Fine dining....nah. Shopping....hell no. Traveling...not unless I had enough money for gas and was visiting family because family feeds you for free. I was struggling financially even with a roommate who was also a first year teacher. I have no idea how I would have made it on my salary if I had a family to support.  

Today I am a principal and when I heard about the teacher rally scheduled for May 16th in Raleigh at the opening of the North Carolina General Assembly,  I was hands down in support. Last Tuesday, when I checked teacher absences at my school for May 16th and counted 32, I slow clapped at my computer! Yes, the beginning teacher salary has increased to $40,000 but the cost of living and healthcare has also increased. It has not gotten better. Educators are still experiencing financial challenges. Additionally, the increase in pay received as teachers work additional years is embarrassing. To make $60,000 as a teacher in North Carolina you must teach for 30 years. Teachers previously received additional compensation if they earned a masters or doctorate degree but this was repealed. To make more money as a teacher you must work a 2nd job, earn National Board certification (which costs $1,900), receive a promotion, or leave the profession. This is not okay. 

I see how hard my staff works every single day. I see them love our children like their own. They come to school early, they leave late, and they take work home with them on the weekends.  They tutor after school and serve as coaches of our athletic teams to build deeper relationships with our scholars and families. They show up in the community at church plays and community football league games to support our scholars outside of school. They organize college tours, local and international trips to show our scholars the opportunities right at their finger tips. Without being asked, they create mentoring groups, debate teams, robotics club, afterschool arts programs, and Saturday STEM Academy because they know our scholars deserve it and will be better because of it. If they see our scholars have a need, they go to the end of the earth to fulfill it even if it means sacrificing their own needs. 

I also see my staff carpooling to work to save a few extra bucks or when they have car issues they can’t afford to fix. I see them on the bus lot during dismissal with their bags because they can’t be late to their 2nd job. I see them donating sick leave to a fellow staff member preparing for maternity leave because there’s no paid maternity leave, you have to use your earned sick days, annual leave or personal leave. I see them applying for grants and other outside funding to cover the cost of supplies needed to create meaningful learning experiences for our kids.  I see them addressing the social and emotional needs of our scholars in addition to teaching because there simply aren't enough school counselors, social workers and school psychologists funded through the county and state. 

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So yeah, I support May 16th because #Itspersonal. I’ve been there and in some ways still there because similar legislative changes have impacted principal pay. Even if you’ve never been a teacher, you are able to read this blog so you have been impacted by one....you should be fired up! We supported our kids as they walked out for 17 minutes on March 14th to advocate for safer schools. Why wouldn’t we support the people who stand in front of our kids every day as they advocate for reasonable pay and better working conditions? We have an opportunity to send a powerful message to our kids and community about how we value teachers and their voice. Don’t be a hypocrite and send the message to our kids that your voice only matters when you aren’t old enough to vote.

Erica Jordan-Thomas