By: Ashlee Garrison
Public education in North Carolina has been a hot topic of discussion and debate in the past couple of years. New academic standards have set the bar higher for our teachers and students (which is a good thing), yet funding has decreased and teachers have been leaving the field in droves due to pressures that have come as a result of less staffing, higher accountability and minimal raises over time. Our teacher pay and dollars spent per student ranks as one of the lowest in the entire country. This wave of change has educators and parents alike concerned for the future of public education in North Carolina. It also has me asking, “What can we do about it?” As a North Carolina public educator of the Cumberland County School System, I can say that on a system level, that I believe we are doing everything that we can do to support our schools, teachers and students, but many of the problems we face are simply out of our hands.
The North Carolina General Assembly dictates much of our staffing limitations and funding. Public education is the foundation of our communities. Public education nurtures our future leaders and productive citizens, which is needed for our communities to prosper. If we want to ensure that our future is going to be a desirable one, we have to stand together in unity and start putting pressure where the decisions are being made and communicate regularly with our legislative representatives. We have voted them into office and it is only fair to them and ourselves, to communicate our wants and needs. We cannot expect them to make decisions in our favor if we are not communicating with them on a regular basis. And remember, they took an oath when they were voted in, to represent the wants and needs of their constituents. If we want our education systems to improve, let’s reach out to them and let them know what is important to us.
Some issues in education that have recently come up in general assembly discussions include:
· The possibility of cutting more teacher assistant positions. Teacher assistants are vital, especially when working with younger children. We call them instructional assistants, because they are teaching our students in small groups and helping us meet their individual needs.
· Making classroom sizes larger, thus decreasing the individual attention a teacher can devote to the needs of students.
· Increased accountability & testing on students and teachers. The state of North Carolina spends loads of money on testing each year that could be utilized in more effective places such as staffing and resources.
· Teacher Salary: There were no raises in the 2015-2016 school year for teachers. If we want to attract the best and the brightest to our field, we have to pay a competitive salary.
· The elimination of the “Teaching Fellows” program. These programs helped us attract highly qualified individuals to the field. Now we are struggling just to fill our classroom teacher positions.
The issues listed above are merely the surface of the issues we are facing within our schools, due to the lack of prioritization at our state level. The best way to communicate our desires is to reach out to our individual legislative representatives. You can find who represents your area by going to this website: http://www.ncleg.net/representation/WhoRepresentsMe.aspx. Picketing and protesting draws attention, but one of the best ways to make change is to hold personal dialogue with decision makers. Whether you choose to write a letter, make a phone call or take a personal trip to visit your legislative representative, here is some advice for reaching out and making a difference:
· Know your issue. Make sure you have done your background research.
· Approach this person with respect.
· Be concise. Explain why education is your priority and why it should also be theirs.
· Pull at the heartstrings. Include a personal testimony about your experience in public schools or the experiences of your children. Remind them of the critical part public schools play in our lives.
· Write a collective letter. Legislators see power in numbers.
· Continue to make contact. Follow up with them on specific issues continuously and hold them accountable. Let them know you mean business (in a respectful manner).
Making contact with your legislative representative is a simple and easy way that you can contribute to the improvement of the public school system in North Carolina. I cannot stress enough how paramount public education is in this day and age. We are molding our future, a future that will impact all of us and not just the students currently in our buildings.
The future of North Carolina’s Public Education System is at stake and we owe it to ourselves and to our children to make sure that we continue to make funding for public schools in North Carolina a top priority. We need to attract and retain the best and most qualified teachers, who need caring and competent teacher assistants who will work their hardest to meet the needs of our children. We need resources that will help teachers support their students to meet the demands of higher standards. We need these things now and we need each other to make it happen. Teachers work every day to meet the needs of their students and legislators work every day to meet the needs of their constituents, but we have to communicate with them. And remember, when it comes to changes at the legislative level, there is great power in numbers!
Ashlee Garrison is an Instructional Coach at New Century International Elementary School and the Cumberland County Schools 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year.