There is perhaps nothing more American than standing up for your beliefs. When we feel a wrong has been done to us or our rights have been violated, we take action—a lawsuit, a picket line, a referendum.
Public school teachers in North Carolina have plenty of reasons to feel wronged. Earlier this year, Gov. McCrory and state legislative leaders passed new laws that hurt public education, such as creating larger class sizes and cutting funding for teacher assistants. They also directly attacked our teachers by eliminating teacher tenure and supplemental pay for master’s degrees. And teacher pay in North Carolina already ranks among the lowest in the nation.
These laws have inspired teachers to take action; thousands took part in Moral Monday marches and other protests throughout the state during and after the legislative session. Some have left the teaching profession altogether, publicly sharing their frustration that the job they love doesn’t pay them enough to support their families. North Carolina teachers have only received one 1.2% raise in the last seven years—which has done next to nothing to offset the increasing cost of living.
Now some teachers and education advocates are calling for a statewide teacher walk-out on Monday, November 4. The idea gets mixed reactions from teachers. Some believe it’s important for teachers to make a bold statement in support of public education and to demand respect for their work and their profession. Others worry about the effect a walk-out would have on students, administrators, and on parents’ support for their cause. “I am not sure that walking out is the right thing to do, but I sure am motivated to do something,” says Marie Calabro, an elementary school teacher in Charlotte, NC.
Few teachers are announcing publicly that they will participate in the November 4th walk-out. The NC Teacher Walkout blog is anonymous, and the corresponding Facebook page was set up under a false name. More than 620 have joined the Facebook event so far, but there’s no telling how many attendees are teachers and how many are non-teachers wanting to express their support. (Five of my Facebook friends have clicked “going,” and none are teachers. One friend who is a teacher says he will not walk out because his students don’t deserve to get punished for lawmakers’ decisions.)
We’ll have wait and see how many teachers participate and how legislators react.
But perhaps the more important day of action actually occurs the day after the proposed walk-out; Tuesday, November 5th is Election Day.
At the Women AdvaNCe’s summit earlier this month, attendees were shocked to learn that only about one third of North Carolina teachers vote. Many teachers don’t make it to the polls because of their long after-work hours and demands on their energy and attention.
Most of what’s on the ballot this Tuesday are local municipal and county elections, so teachers won’t have the opportunity to express their support or displeasure with legislators this time around. But let’s hope that doesn’t stop them from voting. Deciding who gets your vote for mayor, town council, or county commissioner based on the candidates’ reactions to the legislature’s education policies can send a strong message.
Of course, that applies not only to teachers, but to all of us who have an opinion about the direction of North Carolina’s education system. What could be more American than making your voice heard through your vote? So mark calendars for Tuesday, November 5th—and maybe also for Monday, November 4th…