When I became a teacher, people told me that it was a wise career move. I could work wherever I wanted. But why would anyone want to teach in North Carolina now that it has been ranked as the worst state for teachers?
This is a question that’s being asked in social media groups, during late night grading sessions, at game duties, and around the local watering hole on Fridays as teachers try to buoy their spirits or examine their exit strategies.
Part of the answer is because once teachers start their careers, they feel like leaving would be akin to abandoning their own children. They know they are on a sinking ship, but they are not the rats and they will go down with the wreck. However, it’s hard to recruit new teachers aboard an unseaworthy vessel and NC will soon be in even more dire straits as teacher shortage grows.
When people ask me what they can do to help teachers, I feel overwhelmed. In some ways, I’m too close to the situation, feeling, even as I try to tar the cracks and stuff rags in the holes, that capsizing is inevitable.
Still, if you are willing to grab a bucket and try to bail the teachers out for the survival of the children, here are some strategies that might help until NC decides to survey the wreckage and make major changes:
Get political. Vote for the politicians who seem to value education (and not just privatization of it) and understand what it means to attract and retain qualified teachers. Vote for funds to be allocated for pre-k, teacher assistants, and smaller class sizes.
When local decisions affecting your child’s school need to be made, ask the teachers how they feel about them, attend the board meetings, and let your voice be heard and your presence counted.
Get involved. What teachers usually need most is time. Giving it to them is a great gift, greater even, than a Starbucks giftcard (but keep those coming too). There are so many tasks that take up a teacher’s planning period that aren’t used for instructing your child. If you are able, volunteer to proctor one of those state tests, cover a lunch or recess duty, chaperone a trip, or arrange the trip logistics. Each school and level has different needs, so ask the teachers or the PTA (and join the PTA while you are at it) what they need most.
Get complimentary. When teachers feel under attack from the bureaucrats, the media, and the school board, a parent email can make or break them. Did your child’s teacher do something great that your kid can’t stop talking about? Did you notice the teacher going above and beyond? Tell them and their superior.
Do you have concerns about your child or something that happened at school? Trust the teacher to make it right by advocating for your child in a productive manner— not with attacks.
Get empathetic. People believe their chosen profession is the most important and that they work harder at their job than anyone else. So imagine how you would feel if someone who had no experience in your field belittled your occupation. Please, please, never say to a weary teacher, “At least you have summers off.” You don’t know how many other jobs that teacher is working, how late they stayed or how early they arrived to prep that awesome lesson (or club, or practice, or prom) or how much of their weekend with their own child was sacrificed.
NC’s educational system can’t sink much lower, and eventually more and more teachers are going to jump ship. If they do, remember, whether you have children or not, what will be lost.