By Caroline L. Walker
It has been a few weeks since over 1,000 teachers in our community united with tens of thousands from across the state and asked our legislators to hear their voices. Since that time, many have engaged in a debate by sharing statistics and opinions, with some even questioning the validity of the teacher’s concerns. But are we actually listening?
While I spent 10 years in education, my most important job is being a mother of two young children. As parents, we spend a great deal of time trying to do what is best for our children – advocating for them and trying to teach them the values we hold dear. But we cannot do it alone. The teachers that dedicate their lives to educating, encouraging and inspiring our children are a significant piece of what will define who and what they will become.
Inventor Charles F. Kettering said, “There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.”
I spent more than 14 hours with our teachers on May 16 seeking to understand. What I learned from listening to these educators is that they have a grave concern for our state’s education system and for our children, which goes far beyond the publicized discussion of salary.
Yes, we want to have a conversation about teacher pay, as they are still making $10,000 below the national average. Even with small raises in recent years, our teachers are bringing home less than they were before the recession when adjusted for inflation. But, where I gained the most understanding was their message overall: we need to place a higher value and priority on education.
Our teachers told me many of their experiences, from not having the resources they need to teach our children to not being able to find qualified teachers for critical subjects, such as math and science. I listened as teachers said they did not feel heard, valued or respected as professionals. Every teacher I spoke to stated that the per-pupil spending, which is 39th in the nation and $2,400 below the national average, is not giving our kids what they need to be successful. Above all, these educators voiced their concerns for the future of education in our state and what that means for our children.
One thing was consistent across the hundreds of teachers I met with. Their concerns were about their students. These teachers were trying to sound the alarm that our education system is in trouble and that we need to listen and take action.
As a parent, I want better than 40th in the nation in education for my children and all our children.
I ended the day at the rally with a new level of understanding and so filled with gratitude for the dedication and commitment of our teachers
So, how can we be better dedicated to our teachers and our children?
As someone who hopes to serve our community in the State Senate, I think it starts with recognizing that our education system is not a partisan issue and agreeing that no matter what was done in the past, we need to do better for the future. This starts with listening and understanding our teachers and each other. I believe this means uniting for a better future for all of us by prioritizing students over special interests and teachers over corporate tax cuts.
Let’s start that better future with courage.
Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
These teachers had the courage to stand up and speak. As a grateful mother of two, I hope we are all ready to have the courage to sit down and listen.
Caroline L. Walker is a Democratic candidate for N.C. Senate District 35.