Monica Wilkerson, the English Department Chair at Leesville Road High School in Wake County, has been teaching in North Carolina since 1993. Standing in front of her school, she explained that she was proud to call herself a teacher back then. The state was a leader in public education, and she said politicians of all stripes were united around support of public schools.
“Then slowly, a wave of cynicism and criticism enveloped our state,” she said.
Teachers became the enemy, she said, “greedy people,” who didn’t know how to teach.
“Everybody knew better how to teach except those trained to do so,” she continued.
Under the Republican controlled legislature, she said textbooks have fallen into disrepair or disappeared, the achievement gap shows no sign of narrowing, and classes are full to busting with students. As one of the speakers at Red4EdNC’s press conference at Leesville today, she said it’s time for lawmakers to behave differently.
Today, Red4EdNC, a non-profit collection of teachers from around the state advocating for public schools, was presenting its grievances about student learning and teacher working conditions at seven different scheduled press conferences around the state. At the press conference in Wake County, a teacher read the opening from the group’s “Declaration in Defense of North Carolina’s Public Schoolchildren,” a document that Angela Scioli, social studies teacher at Leesville and Red4EdNC founder, said teachers in 104 of the state’s 115 school districts have signed.
Scioli said that today’s press conferences were in opposition to claims out of the General Assembly that lawmakers are really supporting public education in the state as they should. Legislative leaders say the state is spending more on public education than ever before, but members of Red4EdNC counter that while that may be the case, the student population has grown and the lawmaker’s numbers don’t account for inflation.
“We are gathered here today to offer a counter narrative to the rosy claims being offered by those in power,” Scioli said.
Tommy ReBant, a fifth grade teacher at Leesville Road Elementary, talked about the lack of school supplies and how he and other teachers are collecting supplies themselves and handing them out to families who need them. He said that schools used to be well stocked, but under the GOP-led General Assembly, funding has dwindled.
“This burden has been shifted to the parents, to the community, and to the resourcefulness of teachers,” he said.
Wendy Kreitman, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Daniels Magnet Middle School, said that the state’s public schools have fewer teachers per student than they did back in 2008. The result is increasingly packed classrooms with less emphasis on individual instruction.
“My job as a teacher is to engage and educate, not manage,” she said.
Near the end of the press conference, Wilkerson brought the gathering back to North Carolina’s motto, challenging legislators to do better.
“We know how to be rather than to seem,” she said of the state’s teachers. “North Carolina must live up to its state motto and fulfill its obligation to its students.”
During the press conference at Leesville, Scioli said that all the members of Wake County’s legislative delegation were invited to attend. Some accepted, some gave reasons why they couldn’t attend, and some never responded, but the sudden special session of the General Assembly today called to handle the rewriting of two proposed constitutional amendments up for a vote in November meant that no legislators showed up. Nevertheless, Scioli provided the press with a list showing who was invited and how they responded.