The Heart of a Teacher, the Soul of Our State

For the past seven weeks, a growing number of North Carolinians have gathered at our state’s General Assembly to collectively petition an extreme legislature whose daily decisions are attacking the general welfare. We have called these gatherings “Moral Mondays,” and an awakening of hope led by people of faith has been at the heart of them. Last week, our Moral Monday was led by hundreds of pastors, drawing attention from the New York Times. But pastors are not the only people whose faith is inspiring them to action. Yesterday, dozens of doctors, nurses, school teachers and environmental activists led the crowd of over 4,000 people. Holly Jordan, a Durham public school teacher, was among those arrested. This is the statement she made on the Halifax Mall before her arrest.

As a public school teacher in North Carolina—not an “outsider” that Governer McCrory alleges is at the helm of the Moral Monday protests, but an educator grounded in and devoted to the community of Durham—I am ardent to stand up for the future of my students. When I came out of college straight into teaching seven years ago, I believed that teaching English was going to be about, well, teaching English.  I thought that my task was to impart in my students a love of, or at least a less fervent dislike for, Shakespeare and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Within a few short weeks I learned how mistaken I was. Sure, there was still room for Boo and the Bard, but teaching was really about providing stability, respect, and compassion to teenagers desperate to learn in a system that was failing them. It was about talking to K about why he shouldn’t drop out. It was about visiting J in the hospital after her miscarriage. It was about tutoring 15-year-old T so he could move past a fifth grade reading level.

Because this was what my students needed, this is what teaching became for me. It is what teaching means for thousands of teachers, counselors, teaching assistants, and other public school workers across the state, as we prepare our students for successful futures, not just academically, but in every way. We work long past our salaried hours to create instruction that challenges our students to grow as critical thinkers. We advise clubs where our students can express themselves. We coach sports to promote health and self-discipline. We counsel the crying, laugh with the happy, protect the bullied, and motivate the discouraged. We are honest with our students about their struggles and successes, and about our own. We do all this not for professional gain but because we firmly believe that these children are worth everything we can give them. We do it because what we teachers want is no different than what our students need.

What the General Assembly wants, however, is in stark contrast to what the children of North Carolina need. In their pursuit to destroy public education via budgets that cut funding, school vouchers that favor private companies, and the elimination of master’s degree pay, the legislature shows how little they care about the quality and longevity of those educating our kids. I am a seventh year teacher whose pay is frozen at the second year rung of the pay scale, in the state with the 4th worst teacher pay in the country. I have seen dozens of excellent teachers move on to other professions or other states so they could sustain themselves and their families. At my school, students regularly ask new teachers “will you be here next year?” because they are so used to our terrible turnover rates.

It’s not just education legislation that is bent on destroying our most vulnerable communities through persistent instability. The General Assembly is curbing voting rights, letting unemployment benefits expire, and repealing the Racial Justice Act, all while giving tax breaks to corporate giants. My students aren’t naïve. They know that their communities are being marginalized.

Last year, a student at our school was murdered. In the weeks that followed, my students and I cried out in anguish and anger and asked the toughest questions one could imagine: Why did this student end up where he was?  What could any of us have done?  How can we keep this from happening again?  Our teenagers know to ask these critical questions, but the leaders in Raleigh have failed to ask them: How do we make sure justice is served for all North Carolinians?  How do we transform struggling communities into havens of health and stability? My students create solutions, like organizing a march to the early voting polls and memorial for their classmate. Meanwhile, politicians ignore humanity and count capital.

Next school year, as I always have in the past, I will tell my students every day that they are important and loved. What I wish I could tell them is that the people in power agree—that our General Assembly believes in their futures just like I do. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to do that. I will get to tell them, however, that thousands of North Carolinians testified to their worth during the Moral Mondays, and that a movement that believes in them is coming. This movement is not the work of “outside agitators,” as the Governor believes, but the best and bravest that our state has to offer. It’s a movement led by and fighting for the well-being of 9.7 million insiders—the people of North Carolina who desire a healthy, sustainable future in our state for generations to come.

  • Elaine Orr

    This woman speaks like a prophet. What a courageous voice for children, for North Carolina, for humanity.

  • Cole Chapman

    An extreme far right majority was overwhelmingly voted in by the people of this state. You reap what you sow.

  • GilbertDavis

    Unbalanced . The private and religious schools are an alternative to the public schools. Since tax payers are already paying high taxes going toward education , they should be able to take a small fraction of that to go fro vouchers for them to be used toward the school alternative or their choice.

    • Carolyn

      You totally missed the point. If you are cutting education funding and freezing teacher pay, taking out money for vouchers only further damages the public school system, creating a vicious cycle. The worse it gets, the more vouchers, which in turn leads to less funding for public schools….I hope you get the idea. Add to that that private and religious schools receive the benefit of funding from the state through vouchers with none of the accountability placed on public schools, and the voucher system dooms public education to failure. So much for providing a free, equal, public education to all citizens.

      • GilbertDavis

        The private schools are doing a better job . We still trail the rest of the developed world in math and science yet teachers and administrators in public schools rack in ever increasing salaries , benefits and bonuses . The private sector has made cuts , laid off workers and taken away benefits. Don’t tell me that’s fair . No administrator should be paid 150,000 dollars a years . Use the technology we have to downsize and be more efficient . They need to go back to basics and teach what a child needs to learn to make it and be prepared for higher learning . Sadly , I am a product of public education . I would have done much better had there been money for private or Christian school education. Throwing more money into public education will not solve the problem . Competition is the only thing that will motivate the use of tax payer monies to go toward a better education for children .

        • ElleEmElle

          “…yet teachers and administrators in public schools rack in ever increasing salaries , benefits and bonuses . ”


          • ashtonashley

            You must live in an entirely different universe than I do, if you feel this way. Teachers do not. Administrators who are over thousands of students, instead of 200 at a private school do get compensated for their efforts. I don’t have a problem with that.

        • ashtonashley

          We don’t know that they are doing a better job!!!!!!!!!!!! Private school students are not subjected to the same state testing public school students are, so we cannot compare! Principals who require their private school students to take one of the same tests, here and there, at their choosing, is not the same! Teach the same (state required) curriculum, take the same tests, then let’s compare. Republicans are doing everything possible to weaken public education so they can get their claws into the tax payer”s educational funds, which will go to large corporations whose only goal is to increase the bottom line. The Republicans’ greed is totally immoral, and its greed knows no end. Oh, I could go on and on about all of the “studies” conservative groups have paid for to make teachers look bad, but I’ll just stop here.

          • GilbertDavis

            I live in Pennsylvania and the testing and evaluations are equal to or better than the public state schools. The private and even home schools are doing a better job of educating children and preparing them for higher education and life in general. So , YES , WE DO KNOW !!!!!!! Many at these Christian schools are also taught not to lie, exaggerate , distort the truth , degrade other human beings, falsely accuse and project unto others the weaknesses and sins of self.

    • My_turn

      I would not be willing to have taxpayer funding of education that is not regulated by the state. Are private and religious schools willing to accept the same regulations and curriculum requirements as public schools?

      • GilbertDavis

        The public and religious schools consistently outperform the public schools . Remove the percentage tax burden from any parent who decides to send his child to the school of their choice .

        • My_turn

          Well duh, they can cherry pick their students. That is why I specifically do not support a further worsening of the already stressed and underfunded public system and those students that will be left there. If people are not willing to support public schools, they SHOULD have to pay for it if they want something different for their own precious.

          You also completely missed my point, private and religious schools insist on the independence to promote their own curriculum without public oversight. I don’t see many as willing to accept the strings of regulation and curriculum requirements (science for example in some schools).

          • ashtonashley

            Let me add another “well, duh”. Private schools can pick and choose which tests to take.. Many just choose the ACT, so guess which test they teach to? Public school teachers have to dilute their efforts and teach to many tests, or lose their jobs, so they can’t put all their efforts into teaching to the ACT, like private schools can. Oh, my. I feel dirty just typing all of this stuff about teaching to a test, but I felt it was important for people to understand that you are comparing apples and oranges when you are comparing public and private schools, in more ways than one!

  • Daniel Lambert

    I guess the GOP’s plan to privatize schools to teach kids how to survive privatized prisons is under attack by a group of people who call themselves more moral than thee on Mondays…get a rope!

  • Cole Chapman

    The voters of this state overwhelmingly elected an extremist far right legislature in the last election. You reap what you sow people

    • Festus

      It wasn’t that overwhelming. The elections in most districts were pretty close. Voter apathy and gerrymandering from the 2010 elections explain most of the difference.

  • GuerrillaFanfare

    These Moral Mondays should be carried out with an Armed People. When those in power decide to stop listening, the 2nd Amendment makes sense. I’m not condoning violence, but you won’t be arrested and that’s the point.

  • Pam Johnson

    She makes me remember why I started teaching … and wonder why I ever stopped.