Daily Reflector: State putting the squeeze on teachers

From The Daily Reflector:

It’s certainly not unusual for teachers to stay in their classrooms long after school ends to grade papers and plan for upcoming lessons. It’s part of the job I expected when I became a teacher. But something I didn’t expect was having to work a second job to make ends meet because state lawmakers refuse to give educators an adequate raise. 

Becoming a teacher meant taking a $15,000 pay cut from my previous career, but the impact I’ve made in my fourth-graders’ lives has been priceless. Unfortunately, personal satisfaction won’t pay my bills or buy books and other classroom supplies for my students when my school can’t provide them.

That’s why in addition to the approximately 60 hours a week I work as a teacher, I also typically work an extra 15 hours each week as a retail cashier. I stay at school for hours most evenings because I can’t afford home Internet service to complete classroom-related tasks. Yes, you read that right.

Until I became a teacher, I had no idea how bad our state’s funding for public schools had gotten over the last decade. We no longer have enough funding for basic supplies and other resources for our classrooms, so I reach into my own pockets to provide basic needs to students after my $100 yearly classroom supply allowance runs out. Could you watch a child struggle daily because they don’t have the basic supplies they need for class? State lawmakers don’t show an understanding that countless North Carolina educators provide clothing, school supplies, and food for some of our students in addition to paying our own bills.

In addition to teaching our subjects, educators also have to help our students through their emotional difficulties and other hardships without being given adequate mental health training or support. Based on current policy and allotments, politicians don’t realize how important mental and emotional health is to students, because they still refuse to provide enough funding for more school nurses and counselors.

The ongoing budget standoff is making our needs pile up even further, and more and more teachers are leaving. I don’t want to leave my students, but I don’t know how long I can afford to stay in a profession that pays teachers so little, then forces us to spend our own money buying basic supplies for our classroom. 

Even when my budget is a little thin, I won’t hesitate to make financial sacrifices for my students when they need me. I have even picked up pencils from the janitor’s sweep pile to make sure every student is fully equipped to learn. Educators do our jobs — and so much more. Why won’t lawmakers do their jobs by giving us the resources we desperately need?

No one becomes a teacher unless they genuinely want to make a difference in people’s lives. That is why we put up with the long hours and lack of pay, and it’s why I have a second job. We owe it to our kids to give them an exceptional education, but state lawmakers are not taking responsibility for their lack of funding for public schools. 

I want lawmakers to recognize the importance and value of funding our classrooms instead of giving tax cuts to big corporations. They owe it to students, teachers, and families all over our state.

Amanda Smith is a fourth-grade teacher in Pitt County.

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Eleanore Wood

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