On Wednesday, November 20th, teachers at Jordan High School are staging a walk-in from 8:00 to 8:30 in the morning. They plan to demonstrate on the sidewalk in front of Jordan alongside Garrett Road. The teachers’ main concern is the delay of the state legislature’s promised budget, towards which no progress has been made after more than one hundred days. The teachers’ demands for the budget include the following items:
Expansion of Medicaid
Increased funding for non-teaching faculty such as librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and nurses
5% raises as well as a $15/hour minimum wage for all staff
Restoration of advanced-degree (master’s, Ph.D.) pay
Restoration of retiree health benefits
An estimated tens of thousands of teachers from across the state marched in Raleigh on May 1 with this same list of demands for lawmakers. As none of these calls for change have been answered, the frustration of teachers across the state is coming to a head. Along with schools across the state, Jordan teachers have decided that action must be taken.
Mr. Pérez, a social studies teacher at Jordan, gave a good summary of the movement. “Last year at the statewide convention for the North Carolina Association of Educators, we all voted on five demands. These include not just things for educators but also for students and families, like expanding Medicaid. It’s a whole range of issues that we firmly believe would improve education in North Carolina.” Speaking on how the issues affect him as a teacher, he emphasized that “[students’] learning conditions are [teachers’] working conditions to the extent that when teachers’ working conditions are not great, students’ working conditions are not great. It feels like both parties are playing political football with our lives,” he stated. “We’ve been in a political stalemate for far too long.” Pérez, a teacher who feels deeply connected to the campaign, mentioned that Jordan and other schools in North Carolina are staging walk-ins and using petitions as a means of “pushback to get the things that our students and educators deserve.”
Mrs. Howes, a teacher in the English department, feels the need for the walk-in individually. “I love teaching kids, but I don’t feel like my job is sustainable for me personally with the way teachers are treated now,” she responded when asked why she’s choosing to participate. “I want to have kids one day, but I feel like I can’t sustain a family on a current teacher salary. Also, there isn’t much room for growth for me even if I go and get my master’s or Ph.D.” Howes shared her concern about a lack of respect for the hard work teachers do, saying that “in our community, teachers are respected, but it’s really not happening at a state or even district level.” Mrs. Howes wants teachers to do something positive with the anger and frustration she feels building in her peers across the state, a good example of which is the walk-in. One other concern that Mrs. Howes expressed regarded the demand for better mental health resources for students. With firsthand experience with the impact of mental health-related issues in her family, one of the main reasons that she’s participating is that she feels her students aren’t getting what they need psychologically, such as licensed professionals in schools.
“I’m participating because…oh man, there’s a lot of reasons,” chuckled Mr. Holthaus, another social studies teacher at Jordan. “Basically, the general assembly does not support public education. They haven’t passed a budget; when they pass teacher raises it’s often taking from one group to give to another group.” Instead of funding public education and schools in general, Holthaus feels that the state is more concerned with keeping new teachers in the profession by giving them more raises than veteran teachers and in the process neglecting other areas in need of funding. “Teaching is really, really hard in your first few years–well it’s hard always, but especially hard in your first couple of years–and they aren’t making it any easier by having understaffed and under-resourced schools,” Holthaus reflected. “They also aren’t rewarding veteran teachers who are staying in the profession, who are experienced, who have been able to have a long teaching career.” Mr. Holthaus sees short and long-term reasons to participate. In the short term, teachers are frustrated that the state isn’t passing a budget or meeting teacher demands, and the long-term reason for such a protest is that the state legislature doesn’t fund public education to the extent that teachers think they should.
Not every teacher is on board, however. Some teachers feel that the protest isn’t going to result in any measurable change. “If they do it, I’ll go. I support my fellow teachers,” said one teacher who asked to remain anonymous. “But we protested last year in Raleigh and I was there. See what happened? Nothing. I think it just pissed them off.” A second anonymous teacher felt that the frustration was unjustified to a point. “When the rubber hits the road, I signed a contract. I knew what I was getting into,” the teacher said.
Despite the pushback from some teachers, dozens of participants expect the walk-in to be a success this Wednesday morning. The Falcon Post will be present to hear from those protesting and students interested in supporting the cause can talk to any of the teachers quoted above for more information.
*Any point of view expressed in this article does not necessarily represent the views of the Falcon Post, Jordan High School, or Durham Public Schools.