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How many people remember favorite teachers from elementary school? What about from junior high or middle school? From high school or even from the community college or college or university you attended?

While serving as a mayor and a state senator, I spent countless hours in school classrooms talking with young people about citizenship, leadership, history, state and local government and a host of other subjects.

Every time I left the classroom, I was inspired by how dedicated our teachers are and what a positive difference they make in the lives of their students.

As this school year ends, I hope you will join me in taking the time to call or even write a note to a few of your teachers or former teachers and simply say:

Thank you.

Thank you for believing in me, for encouraging me, for challenging me, for being patient with me and for helping me reach my goals. Thank you for making a positive difference in my life.

Teachers have the most important jobs in society, and teachers are vastly underappreciated and underpaid here in North Carolina.

Our teachers deserve more support, better pay and our respect. 

We can and must do better.

It will take commitment from everyone, including the business community, legislators, parents and citizens. Our children and grandchildren, regardless of their status in life, deserve a quality education.

A recent column in the Wall Street Journal by Dan Greenstein of the Gates Foundation and Jamie Merisotis of the Lumina Foundation made the following observations:

“Education remains the chief American institution that promotes economic and social mobility for poor and disadvantaged citizens.. It’s the direct answer to the question of what the nation needs to improve its talent pool and improve economic opportunity and social equality. Education is the clearest and best way to develop talent and build the skills so important to our economic and social well-being.”

Now is the time for all North Carolinians to join together and support our teachers, our schools and our students as we prepare for the future.

Our leaders should set their sights high and commit to establishing North Carolina as the Education State, second to none.

To every teacher in North Carolina — thank you for your dedication. You are making a difference and I am grateful.

Gene McLaurin

Gene McLaurin is the president of Quality Oil Company.  He served as mayor of Rockingham for 15 years and is a former state senator who represented Richmond, Scotland, Stanly, Anson, and Rowan counties in District 25.