Last June, I retired from a career that spanned 44 years as a classroom teacher and school administrator. At first, I thought that retiring would be a pretty easy process. It was not. As the new school year grew closer, I realized just exactly how much I was going to miss the kids, the parents, and the community of teachers and staff members who dedicated themselves to the well-being of children.
With retirement I remembered the first year I worked with kids like Drew who loved playing foosball. Lee, who asked me to teach him to play trumpet. I worked with Paul who struggled academically and socially. I remembered Barbara who had a speech impediment and was painfully shy because of it.
It has been 45 years since I had them in my class. But I can still see their faces. I can still remember them sharing their hopes and dreams. I can still see them struggling through their teen years.
When 0ne is truly successful with a child it is much like a moment of grace. There is simply no substitute for the relationships one develops, the opportunity to change lives and alter the course of a young life in a meaningful way.
I loved every moment of my career, no matter what I taught or coached, I knew the power of and significance of every single word I shared with every single child. I knew that any word carelessly chosen could crush a child’s spirit. I knew that any word carefully chosen could lift a child’s spirit. For all those years I promised kids that it was my job to be certain the felt safe, welcome, and wanted.
When I retired, I reflected on that first year of teaching. My first paycheck was about $600.00 before taxes. I thought I died and went to heaven, until it came time to pay my bills. That car I needed to get to work, its insurance, power bills, the cost of continuing my education, rent and food pushed me up against a financial wall that I will never forget.
Like many teachers I knew, I had to work a second job and my wife Shelley worked at the same school I did.
And so it is with teachers everywhere. Teachers, too, have needs. They aren’t always financial needs either. Teachers need to be treated with respect commensurate with the importance of the job they do.
If you value your doctor, your lawyer, your car mechanic, your retailer, or whatever, then you surely must know that who they are and what they do started in kindergarten. I would venture a guess that no matter who you are you vividly remember both the positive and not so positive things from your school days. Too, I’ll bet most of you have had both!
Today the leadership in North Carolina’s General Assembly seems to have forgotten how they got where they are today. I have not! As a candidate for State Senate I have a pledge to make to our teachers.
- I will work to restore career status (often called tenure.)
- I will work to restore the career ladder for pay.
- I will work to restore increased pay for advanced degrees.
- I will work to provide universal pre-school.
- I will work to end vouchers.
- I will work to dramatically increase the numbers of social workers and school counselors in our schools.
- I will work to give power back to our school boards.
- I will work to provide a tuition-free post high school (community college) education.
- I will work to see to it that our children are fully funded. (Currently, children are funded at $500.00 per year less than they were in 2008!}
- I will work to see to it that we once again fund a robust teacher scholarship program that will graduate up to 1500 new teachers a year.
- I will work to see to it that our veteran teachers receive the pay raises they need to make theirs a real career as well as retiree benefits!
- I will work to see to it that teacher assistants (K-3) are protected.
- I will work to increase administrator pay.
- I will work to lessen testing and stop using high stakes testing to grade and pay our teachers and schools.
The current General Assembly leadership thinks that the only thing teachers want is more money. The public school picture is far more complicated than that. If they would listen to teachers they would do right by our children and give them the best.
I’m not ready to retire. It turns out that there is more for me to do. Send this educator to the legislature so I can keep on fighting for children like Drew, Paul, and Barbara…and all the other children and their teachers. North Carolina’s future depends on it.