Thousands of North Carolina teachers will attend a rally at the Capitol Wednesday. They will call on legislators to restore funding and initiatives for teachers and students that were eliminated in the past decade. Brittney Dennis and Sabrina Peacock are two third-grade teachers at different stages of their careers. The two sat down to talk about the many cuts they have seen through the years, and why they plan to march.
The following is an excerpt of their conversation, edited for length:
Brittney Dennis: This is my 6th year teaching 3rd grade in Guilford County Schools, of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Sabrina Peacock: This is my 24th year of teaching in Guilford County Schools. I am also a 3rd grade teacher.
Dennis: Yay, third grade!
On how they got involved with the May 16 Day of Advocacy through their local Guilford County Association of Educators, an affiliate of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which is organizing the rally.
Peacock: We were watching the teachers across the country that were doing the walk-outs. We all agreed that this is a really great way to get the teacher voice out, to really make known that we really do need, and want and demand, better for our schools.
Dennis: And it’s now launched into a really big day of advocacy, which I’m really excited about.
Peacock: Me too. I think it’s one of the biggest things that’s happened for North Carolina teachers. I think what’s so important about it is the fact that teachers are stepping up to the plate. There are many times that we voice our opinion, but we don’t always advocate for ourselves like we should. This is a day that teachers are really advocating for what we really need for our students, as well as for ourselves.
For the past, probably 6 to 7 years, education has seen cuts, cuts, cuts. It keeps us from doing what we need to do.
Dennis says she’s shocked to hear that some of the benefits and support services that North Carolina teachers used to have, were eliminated by the time she started teaching in 2012.
Dennis: So I just wanted to know about teacher assistants, that’s something that I’ve never experienced.
Peacock: We used to have teacher assistants, K-through-3. That was years ago, many, many years ago. (Currently, kindergarten is the only grade in their school system in which teacher assistants are employed.) It’s like a second teacher in the room. They’re another pair of eyes, they’re another person who’s teaching, helping when there are lots of things going on, like a child with a bloody nose, then there’s somebody else who can help take care of that while the rest of the children are being taught.
Dennis: That’s something I’ve never experienced. And now, going into my 6th year teaching, and becoming a mentor, and hearing that at one time there was mentor pay … that makes me think, “Well was there mentor pay? Was that a rumor?”
Peacock: There was. No, that’s no rumor. There was mentor pay. And when we had mentor pay, we had more mentors.
Dennis: Do you think that contributes to the teacher shortage in North Carolina? That new teachers are burned out because they don’t have a mentor in their practice, and they don’t have support?
Peacock: I think it has something to do with it. They do have some support, but I think the level of support they need is not the level of support they always get.
As much as we would love to have more pay, we would also love to make sure we have things in our buildings, that we have people in our buildings, we have resources that we need.
Dennis: Absolutely, and when you say more, I think it’s also important that the world know that when we say more, we’re not asking for anything outlandish ... When we say more in North Carolina, we’re talking the bare necessities. We’re talking copy paper, we’re talking building structure necessities. Give us enough to teach all in an effective way.
Peacock: Pay is important, it is very important. There are many teachers that are working two jobs, so that they can provide in their homes and have enough to live off of, and that’s not right either because a profession as great as ours, should pay enough for us to do what we need to do with our families. But pay is not the only thing.
Dennis: Oh, teacher pay is so sensitive for me! I feel uncomfortable. I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable saying that teachers should be paid more.
I actually just recently got accepted into graduate school, so I’ll be starting in the fall. One of the first things that my professor asked me was, “What took you so long?” And I said, “Well, I had to save money to go back to school, and I won’t have any increased pay in my check, based on the degree, to then pay off the loans."
Peacock: One of the things that the state did, was take away the incentive for having your master’s degree. Well, how do you get highly-qualified teachers, and want to keep them, and not really give them advancement for having those degrees?
Dennis: I am so excited for May 16th. I think that more teachers have done more research and educated themselves about the policies that affect them.
Peacock: I’m really hoping that this will not be a one-day event. That this will be the start of teachers really moving forward, and really saying, “We need this for our kids.”
Our hope is that the legislators will understand how important this is and will really put forth action behind what they say when they say education is important.