By Ailen Arreaza
Last Friday, I helped lead my son’s kindergarten class while his teacher and teacher assistant took a couple of hours off to enjoy an appreciation luncheon. It was the last activity our PTA planned for Teacher Appreciation Week, which included decorating the halls with notes about our teachers’ superpowers, bringing in sweets for the staff, and sending extra school supplies in my son’s backpack.
Our teachers were overwhelmed by the kindness parents and students showed them and it was wonderful to see so many moms and dads volunteering their time and money in appreciation. But as I stood in my son’s classroom, surrounded by twenty kindergarteners who were all demanding my undivided attention at once, I realized that our tokens of appreciation were not enough. Our teachers deserve much more than a few notes taped to the wall and a plate of cookies.
Currently, North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay and dead last in teacher salary growth. Our average teacher salary is lower than the salaries in all of our neighboring states, prompting many of our best teachers to take their skills and abilities across state lines. There are countless stories of great teachers who love their work and are making huge differences in the lives of their students, but simply can’t afford to continue working in education in North Carolina. Those who don’t move to other states are finding new careers — some teachers are making more money walking dogs or cutting hair than in the classroom.
Now, I see the patience and tenderness with which my son’s teachers treat him and every student in his class and I know that they are not in it for the money. But shouldn’t they at least make a living? Approximately two out of three teachers have to work outside the classroom to make ends meet. That’s just not acceptable.
Some local parents and public education supporters have formed a group to bring awareness to this issue and support funding for education. Public School Friends is a grassroots effort to get Mecklenburg County Commissioners to fully fund CMS’s budget for next year. The group has a Facebook page and is encouraging all those who care about public education to sign an online petition. At ParentsTogether, we know how powerful parents can be when they ban together. And we are working to connect millions of parents to act as a united force for change when it comes to these kinds of issues.
As for my experience covering my son’s classroom, I can’t say I wasn’t relieved when his teachers walked in again and took over. The kids were relieved too — they all ran to the door and surrounded them in a giant group hug.
Even our youngest North Carolinians know the value of teachers. Isn’t it time for our lawmakers to figure it out?