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The North Carolina Teacher Project is a year-long look at the teaching profession, told through in-depth feature stories, comprehensive policy discussions on The State of Things, intimate conversations between students and teachers, and multimedia presentations. More background on this series is available here. Check out our The Teachers' Room Blog on Tumblr.These reports are part of American Graduate - Let’s Make it Happen! - a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Teacher Email To Legislators Draws Harsh Reply

Dave DeWitt

Last week, Sarah Wiles, a science teacher in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Schools with a master's degree and six years' experience, sent an email to every member of the North Carolina General Assembly with the subject line: “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher.” That email is below.

Monday morning, Sen. David Curtis, a Republican from Denver, NC, replied (actually “reply all” as it went to every member of the General Assembly.) And it’s a message that is sure to get some attention from public-school advocates.

Here’s what he had to say:

From: Sen. David Curtis Date: May 12, 2014 at 9:46:57 Dear Sarah, I have given your e-mail titled “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher” some thought, and these are my ideas. A teacher has an incredible influence on students–for good or for bad. My teachers, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders had a great influence on my decision to go to college which was not a family tradition. My concern is that your students are picking up on your attitude toward the teaching profession. Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer: 1. You expect to make a lot more than you made as a teacher because everyone knows how poorly compensated teachers are. 2. You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher 3. You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit. If he objects, explain to him that a judge has ruled that the taxpayers of North Carolina must provide this benefit to every public school teacher. Surely your new employer wants to give better benefits than the benefits you received as a poorly compensated teacher. 4. Your potential employer may tell you that he has heard that most North Carolina workers make less than the national average because we are a low cost-of-living- state, private sector workers making 87% of the national average and teachers making 85% of the national average. Tell him that may be true, but to keep that confidential because the teachers union has convinced parents that teachers are grossly undercompensated based on a flawed teachers union survey of teacher pay. I support the teacher pay raise but am very concerned that the teachers union has successfully presented to the public a deceptive view of total teacher compensation that is simply not consistent with the facts. Sincerely, Senator David Curtis

And the original email:

From: Sarah Wiles Sent: Tuesday, May 06, 2014 6:47 PM Every year there is a debate on teacher compensation. This is only exacerbates during election years. However, nothing happens. As a sixth year teacher, I have only seen a pay increase once (and then again after plunging myself into debt by earning my Masters in Education). I have attended rallies, joined NCAE, petitioned, and worn red (or blue and white, or whatever color of the rainbow I was required to wear to "show my support'). Nothing ever changes, except my wardrobe. So, that brings me to this one request: leave me alone. I am so tired of being lied to about how important I am and how valuable I am. I am also sick and tired of politicians making my profession the center of attention and paying it lip-service by visiting a school, kneeling next to a child, shaking my hand and thanking me, telling the nightly news that I deserve a raise, and then proceeding to speak through the budget that I am not worth it. If you aren't going to do anything, and you know nothing will change, just leave me alone. I would rather be ignored than disrespected. And on the topic of disrespect, our salary is disrespectful. I tutor my own students for free four days a week after school until I have to go to my next job. I tutor outside of school for pay about fifteen hours a week, and that includes weekends. I also babysit. And I manage pools and teach pool operator classes. And, I currently have an application for summer school being reviewed. I get home at eight pm, spend a half an hour with my husband, answer parent emails, fall asleep, and am back at work at seven am the next morning. I have come very accustomed to being disrespected. My students know that no one cares about education because they frequently ask me why I ever made the decision to become a teacher. Honestly, I am running out of answers. Do not misunderstand or misconstrue what I am saying as apathy for my students (I love them more than most adults), but I can no longer defend that North Carolina cares about education because they are not willing to pay for it. It's a lie and everyone knows it. I know that you all will continue talking about how important teachers are and weaving those wonderful words that tax payers love to hear from the people who are "leading" them that make them believe that it isn't all about the bottom line and that you care about their kids and the public education system. But, I am calling your bluff. If you continue to do nothing even though you can do something, you should be ashamed. I am embarrassed for you. I am embarrassed by you. And, save for my students, I am embarrassed by being a teacher in North Carolina, the doormat of society. Sarah Wiles, M.A.Ed.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Feature News Editor. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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