I was at a Barnes & Noble in late May, working on my portfolio for graduate school when a friend of mine sent me an unexpected text: “Okay, so how do you feel about the teacher walkouts spreading to North Carolina?” Not knowing that the walkouts had spread to North Carolina, I, of course, immediately googled it.
I wanted to know more about the philosophy behind the increasingly widespread movement because admittedly, I did not know a lot. The only thing I knew about a walkout was that it was a form of protest. When a group of workers is dissatisfied with working conditions, they temporarily stop operation and literally walk away from performing a task. This uses a non-violent form of protest to create a symbolic statement in order to make a difference.
I was also previously aware that teacher walkouts in select states around the country had been happening throughout April, due to what I assumed was low funding and low pay. With this in mind, I looked through the results of my search expecting to find something that might indicate why teachers in North Carolina are choosing now to be fed up with the state’s notoriously low teacher wages. I also wanted to learn exactly how effective some of the other walkouts were. I was not disappointed.
According to the website for the North Carolina Association of Educators, North Carolina is ranked 37th in teacher’s pay nationwide, with teachers making around $9,600 behind the average. The state’s elected leaders spend around $2,400 less per student than the national average. This information can be found on the NCAE page titled “Advocacy Day.”
Advocacy Day refers to May 16, the official day that over 25,000 North Carolina teachers and supporters of the cause marched in Raleigh to protest on behalf of public schools. The aims of the walkout, listed under the headline of “Goals,” includes “Significant investment in per-pupil spending so our students have the resources to be successful,” and “A multi-year professional pay plan for educators, education support professionals, administrators and all other school personnel.”
These demands do not seem like much to ask for. In order to teach our children, our educators need the resources. This is a simple concept- one that state lawmakers have either failed to fully grasp or have refused to try to understand.
According to the official May 16 Coalition website, North Carolina teachers are recognizing that “…state lawmakers refuse to invest in our public schools.”
The site urges North Carolina teachers and supporters to demand “a legislature that invests in public education instead of giving away billions of dollars in tax breaks to big corporations run by the rich and powerful.”
This seems to be the theme of the walkouts in other states where the lobbying of lawmakers is the only way to see a salary increase. One example of this is West Virginia, who had a massive statewide strike on February 22. NPR states that West Virginia teachers did not return to class until March 7, a day after the legislature passed a 5 percent pay raise for all state workers, including teachers.
That being said, the answer to why teachers in North Carolina choosing now to get angry seems rather clear: they are not getting angry, they have been angry. Over the years, North Carolina has had plenty of debates over-allocating funds for public schools. Only now, as teachers all across America are starting to publicly express their dissatisfaction with unreasonable conditions are the teachers of this state beginning to feel empowered.
If nothing else, these walkouts have brought the issue of lack of funding for public schools to the forefront of American political discourse. However, we also know that these walkouts have been at least partially successful, as was the case in West Virginia. How do I feel about the teacher walkouts spreading to North Carolina? I think it’s fantastic.
As a student myself, I understand that education is one of the most important freedoms that we have here in America, or at least, it should be. How can we as a country say that it is important when we don’t act like it? I think the teachers of North Carolina feel the same way. I believe that they are determined enough to make a change and serious enough not to settle for any less.