Thursday, October 17, 2013

7th grade teacher: Mass exodus of teachers possible

Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms wrote in today's paper about a potential walkout by N.C. public school teachers to protest low pay and an array of other policies emanating from the legislature. "We want more respect for teachers," organizers write on their Facebook page.

But a walkout could backfire severely. Teachers have a good case to make, but leaving innocent students alone in their classrooms is not the best way to make it.

Katelyn Stukenberg is a 7th grade Language Arts teacher at Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She has helped organize a group of teachers called Policy Bridge, which advocates for an elevation of the teaching profession.

She sent the Observer her thoughts about the state of teaching in North Carolina today, and why a walkout would be a bad move. She warns that North Carolina could suffer "a mass exodus" of teachers in the next year if they aren't treated better by the legislature. She makes a good case that a walkout is not the best way to make that happen. Let us -- and her -- know what you think.

Stukenberg's piece:  

This year after the dismissal bell rings, I know my work as a teacher is not over. After an eight hour day of pushing my 7th grade students to high expectations, pulling out every piece of their potential and engaging every moment of their attention, I know that it is still not enough. I know that after several recent education law changes having passed that I must now become an advocate, not only for my students but also for myself.

I inevitably find myself reflecting on a lesson I previously presented to my students during Language Arts class. The theme of the day was “Choices” and we analyzed the following quote:

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept the conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” –Denis Waitley

            I believe that the majority of teachers will agree that we have reached a point at which we must act in order to safeguard not only our professions, but also the future and wellbeing of our students. We are at a unique and pivotal place in education, where within the next year we will either see a mass exodus of teachers from North Carolina, or a rising up of teachers to demand their voices are represented in education policies and the teaching profession elevated.

            However, as teachers we need to use this opportunity not only to address the symptoms of a flawed system, but more substantially to acknowledge that a change must occur in the methodology of policy creation. Following this summer’s controversial education policies one thing has become clear to me: there is a tremendous gap between teachers in the classroom and policy makers in Raleigh.

            Understandably, teachers have rallied together to express their disapproval of North Carolina’s low teacher salaries and have declared a walkout to improve the current conditions. Although I agree with the commitment to the cause of education policy revision, I argue that teachers should take a different route to accomplishing fair and respectful education policies. Teachers need to spearhead the composition of education policy by communicating and partnering with NC policymakers.

            A walkout will inevitably have the greatest negative consequences for our students. I do not believe they deserve to be walked out on. I have always believed the teaching profession to be noble: one of service, compassion and generosity. Despite my lackluster paycheck, I have held my head high with pride in the fact that we teachers have the most influential and important career in the world. I am disappointed that the nobility of my career is being threatened, yes by unjust policy, but also at the potential for a mass desertion of our students by the very people they have come to respect and trust. We must hold our heads high and continue acting with humility and tenacity and act not with a walk out, but with open communication with policymakers and, as a result, new and drastically improved policies.

            Let me be the first to say that I abhor these demeaning policies that strip the careers I had once dreamed of working in for decades. However, I am confident that our voices can and will be heard as we respectfully advocate for the teaching profession without exposing our students to additional negative impacts. I believe that our role as teachers extends outside of the classroom and into education policy. These policies are confirmation that we are being called to be the unified voice that bridges the gap between the implementation of policy in the classroom and the composition of policies in the capitol.

            I want my students to have access to teachers that are highly effective, valued and treated fairly. I know although these recent policies affect teachers, they will just as greatly affect our students as our state experiences a tremendous loss of our best, most effective teachers and teaching assistants as they move to states where they feel respected and valued. As research has shown, teachers are the most important school-based variable in student success and yet the state fails to see the value in investing in quality teachers as an essential commodity. Instead of creating an even greater divide between policymakers and teachers through a teacher walkout, let us use this opportunity to bring the two sides together to create optimal policies for the North Carolina public education system, its valuable educators, and its promising students.

            In order to construct this policy bridge, a group of teachers have already started to meet with the mission of becoming the Policy Bridge. This group of teachers seeks to discuss and help enact sensible policies through outreach to our legislators. Finally, I urge all teachers considering a walk out to reconsider. We are all passionate about changing many of the new education laws and I am confident that with a unified and informed approach to the current situation, we can both elevate our profession and benefit the students we seek to develop and protect every day.


Ghoul said...

Do I believe NC teachers should be paid more, of course I do. But we all must realize there is limited funds available from the taxpayers, and if teachers want a raise, they should be a the forefront in asking for more responsibility in the way tax monies are spent.

I wonder what percentage of these complaining teachers voted straight ticket Democrat for years on end, and stood by while the Democrats raided the tax coffers to fund their pet projects, graft, and vote buying schemes. I see no complains from teachers when Bev Perdue stole money from the education lottery to pay for more government waste, like rebuilding her daddy's private pier in New Bern. Where were these teachers when Governor Easley created a fake $170,000 job for his wife, and the Democrat legislature spent $400,000 on a Tea Pot Museum?

Where are the CMS teachers complaining about the waste in their own system, such as paying daycare babysitters, er-Pre K staffers, $70,000 a year, paying 30 PR staffers while laying off teachers, or paying for studies, consultants, and snake oil salesmen touting the latest craze?

Taxpayers, both at the state and local level, pay more than enough already. When you are ready to join us in calling for the elimination of waste in government, let us know.

Common Sense said...

I for one don't mind paying more TAXES for education. I just don't believe Corporations should be getting away with not paying their fair-share of taxes and then calling it okay, because of a "tax-shelter."

We need Corporations to pay more of the tax burden and get off the taxpayers back.

Education is vital, but we have to make a choice of how to pay for it. My choice is to pay more taxes and less Corporate Welfare.

I as a Republican believe in education.

Bill said...

Let's face it, North Carolina just doesn't value education like other states. I'm more concerned about the slow walkout already happening as teachers seek employment in states that pay more.

Anonymous said...

Common Sense,

If you are willing to pay more for education, why not call council and ask that a higher % of the taxes you already pay go to education? If you are willing to pay more, it seems education is no more/less important than any other project.

bobcat99 said...

I agree a walkout is not the best strategy. I DO think teachers are being disrespected. Things were not going well for teachers under the Democrats, but the GOP just flat out kicked them while they were down. What Brawley, Rucho, and Berger did was insulting to the profession. I know so many Republican teachers, but they might not be Republican long.

CharlotteObserver said...

Go to and see the salaries in CMS.

Then go to which is a 2012 story in which NC ranks 29th in income in the country.

Garth Vader said...

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

"A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable."

Aubrey Moore said...

Ghoul's comments are offensive and filled with the kind of tripe that comes from those unable to express themselves in meaningful ways. Bev Perdue and Mike Easley had nothing to do with what happened in Raleigh this year and for whom a person votes is of no importance here. For the record, teachers break about even in their political leanings.

This level of reasoning is what teachers face, and whatever courses they take in protecting the dignity of their profession and the integrity of public education, you will have to combat this level of incoherent tripe.

Anonymous said...

The exodus has already begun. I was a teacher in Florida for over ten years. My teaching career in North Carolina ended after one month. You can read more about my reasons for resigning here

Unknown said...

I have been teaching for 17 years and i will not be joining the foolhardy walkout. All this will do is give the right wing extremists a little footing in a battle of public opinion they can't win. I almost left teaching this summer to explore a business oportunity but after a lot of soul searching I realized I like teaching too much. I think Republicans in our current state government are on a mission to destroy public education in our state. Teachers aren't asking for higher pay. They are simply asking to get paid what they were contractually promised. The pay freeze is damaging enough. The new contract issue is the straw that broke the camel's back. Tenure in NC simply means a teacher can get a hearing before they are fired. Now that they have taking that away why would anyone enter the teaching profession?

kantstanzya said...

I think Ghoul's comments were only meant to emphasize that we have plenty of money to pay teachers more. We just don't have our spending priorities in order and instead of examining our priorities and allocating resources Democrats continue to skip merrily down the path of spending for everything that sounds good and vilifying anyone who questions the out of control debt and spending as "uncaring" towards the children...or the teachers...or education in general. Creating boggeymen and scary scenarios is the new (and admittedly successful) Democrat alternative to actually discussing the facts and issues.

The United States spends near the top per pupil but has near the bottom results to show for it. Do we really need to provide universal pre school which most studies show has no educational benefit instead of paying teachers more to attract the best and brightest? We have had head start for 47 years with nothing to show for it but a transfer of income from government to poor families of 4 year olds. Now Obama wants to expand it to everyone? If we want to provide free babysitting for everyone let's just call it what it is.

And do we really want to provide free meals...every meal...for everybody...just because we don't want to embarrass the kids who really do need meal assistance? Geeze... We don't have the money! Teachers are paying the price. The left wants to do the same thing to doctors with Obamacare....cutting costs to provide inferior results to everyone.

Teachers organizations refuse to allow their professionals to be judged and paid like other professions....based on performance. They demand everyone get tenure just for showing up and refuse to allow policies that would measure and pay the best teachers more. It is the good teachers, not the poor ones, who get discouraged by such a system.

And graduation rates are NOT measures of performance. They just mean more kids are being poorly educated for longer periods of time. The US is nearly equal with other countries in performance testing of children in early elementary school years. The disparity grows greater each year meaning the longer our students stay in public schools the WORSE they do comparatively. Chicago graduates 60%of their students. Only 8% are deemed ready for college work.

Teachers should not fall for the bait and switch of the left. We need to improve education...not pour more money into failed systems. As one education writer put it "everyone pretends that spending more on programs that have demonstrably failed is a sign of compassion and "what works", government expands without results, and the poor are offered only the false hopes of liberal good intentions."

Unknown said...

The priorities of many North Carolinians appear misplaced. Why are we spending valuable tax dollars on football; a sport, proven by autopsied brains of players of all levels and ages, instead of textbooks, computers, and teacher salaries?

Face it, rabid vicarious parents, your energy and cash are better spent on algebra, english, science. Oh yah, real science.

Lyndsey said...

As an E/LA teacher in my 10th year of teaching, I too have certainly experienced the hardship that has been placed on NC educators. Not only has my career choice affected me, but I must admit that my family has also been affected. Struggling to make ends meet has become a daily issue in my household. But to think of my 2nd grader or the 168 6th graders that I have grown to care deeply for being abandoned in a classroom in order to "take a stand" as a teacher, seems like the opposite of what our job as educators should stand for. In situations such as this, we must look at the reason we chose such a profession. Obviously I need a job to pay bills and take care of my family, but I also do this b/c of my love for the students that I refer to as "my kids." Would we leave our own children alone to wonder who's going to take care of them? I don't think so...and any so called "teacher" who chooses to walk out is definitely in the wrong profession!

Ghoul said...


Walmart has tissues on sale this week, you might want to stock up.

BiBr said...

So, the teachers want to stage a walk-out. Isn't this the same tactic the tea party is accused of using in order to get their way (i.e. reduce spending or we'll shut down the government). Only with teachers it's "give us more money or we'll shut down education.

BiBr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.