I plan on writing a more extensive report on the teacher walkout in downtown Raleigh Wednesday for the June print edition of NC Capitol Connection. There will be more content on the teachers coming soon at Civitas, including video interviews. Readers can also check out Matt Caulder’s reporting from his time on scene. In the meantime, I wanted to share some brief thoughts of my own firsthand experience.
First off, the crowd was substantial. A little better turnout than I anticipated considering the weather. Some media estimates put it at 19,000, and if it was less than that, it probably wasn’t by much.
None of the teachers I talked with should be described as radicals or hyper-charged ideologues. One mentioned she was conservative for what its worth. Unlike the NCAE, they did not mention throwing Republicans or conservatives out of power in North Carolina. In fact, I believe there is a disconnect with some of the teachers that attended and their union, particularly when it comes to politicizing the rhetoric and event. With their internal email, the NCAE made it clear it was about mobilizing a political movement, while some of the teachers I talked to stressed it wasn’t about the politics. It’s possible I was turned down for conversations by the more ideologically rigid teachers, but I can only speculate on that. I was surprised that a little more refused to speak than were willing to talk to me.
I spoke with one very bright teacher from Guilford County named Nina Sumpter. She expressed some frustration from lack of respect for education and teachers and said she has spent $700+ on school supplies annually. “I don’t mind answering the call [to teach], but stop calling collect,” declared Sumpter.
A couple of teachers admitted it was about more than salary or funding. They told me they have to take on more and more aspects of care and direction over a child’s life. I think part of that could reflect more of a cultural problem than political. There is little doubt that family breakdown has placed more pressure and stress on teachers today.
Gloria Lawrence, a retired teacher in Surry County, brought up an important point. “Things have changed a lot since I began teaching. I used to teach when there were 34 and 35 in the classroom, but you didn’t have all these different labels that we put on children and we didn’t have a lot of the conditions that we have now,” said Lawrence. “I had never seen in my first 25 years of teaching, maybe 20 years of teaching, a fetal alcohol syndrome child. I had never seen one with AIDS. I had never seen a cocaine baby. I have seen those now, and I’ve seen what it does to their ability to learn.”
Lawrence showed up to support her fellow teachers who did not walkout. She said Surry County “wanted to focus on the kids” and remained open. Lawrence said “Surry County does more with less [funding]. She noted that teachers “work morning, noon, and night, and that it puts a lot of stress on family life.” I had a long and fruitful conversation with Lawrence, who is in support of more funding, and I will highlight more of that in print.
I pressed some on what they thought the average salary should be. No teachers wanted to offer up a dollar figure for what they thought that should be for North Carolina Public School teachers, which perhaps shows the savviness of either the PR skills of teachers or the NCAE.
Overall, I really enjoyed going downtown and meeting educators, especially Gloria Lawrence. I think if there were any lawmakers who purposefully dodged them, they missed an opportunity to at least glean some insights because many just have fascinating stories to tell.
I certainly disagreed with those who thought more funding would solve problems that go far beyond the material, but most of their answers were more nuanced and less about political partisanship. I did not concur with teachers that were opposed to school choice, but at least I learned more about their own frustrations. After my conversations, merit pay models definitely make a lot of sense to me.
In my mind, I saw a lot of teachers who are in need of help. And just spending more is not going to solve that. We’ve done that ad nauseam. From a policy perspective, there needs to be more innovation and school choice. So-called conservatives who want to spend more, but just not quite as much as Democrats will not solve the problem either. It not only entraps taxpayers, but it traps children too. Growing government will not grow or improve education, if it did, most of these problems would have been solved by now. True education develops and uplifts the whole person and doesn’t just grow the state.
If anything, I saw beyond the political in the walkout and rally and saw a pressing need to be much more innovative when it comes to education.