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Hundreds of Wilson County educators plan to join thousands of colleagues in a May 1 teachers’ rally outside the N.C. General Assembly building.
After an eleventh-hour cancellation for last year’s inaugural rally left some parents in the lurch, school officials monitored teacher leave requests and wisely opted to cancel classes for the day during Monday’s school board meeting, providing families with two full weeks to make arrangements. But instead of applauding the Wilson County Board of Education’s foresight, many Wilsonians wagged their fingers.
A story on local participation in the teacher rally drew 260 comments on The Wilson Times’ Facebook page. Many were critical, with one parent asking whether teachers or the school board should pay his tab for child care on May 1. While some readers rose to teachers’ defense, the sheer volume of negative comments was astonishing.
Canceled school days are an inconvenience for single-parent households and families with two working parents, but folks seem to manage with far less grumbling on snow days and when hurricanes are lashing our state. Two weeks is adequate notice to arrange for a babysitter or find a child care center.
Equating school with free day care misses the mark. Not only is it insulting to professional educators, administrators and support staff, it undervalues public education and implies that parents don’t much care whether kids are learning or playing as long as they’re not at home unsupervised.
Wilson County Schools has designated May 1 as an optional teacher workday. While many teachers will participate in the rally, some will be in their classrooms grading papers and planning curriculum. Those who choose to raise their voices in Raleigh are putting the lessons of representative government they teach into action. They’re citizen advocates, not radical demonstrators to be feared or derided.
The North Carolina Association of Educators isn’t a teachers’ union, as it cannot collectively bargain on its members’ behalf. It’s a professional association that engages in lobbying and advocacy, but that’s hardly unique. While teachers have the NCAE, their bosses have NCPAPA — the N.C. Association of Principals and Assistant Principals. Many workers have similar groups, from the N.C. Sheriffs Association and N.C. Troopers Association for law enforcement to the State Employees Association of North Carolina to the N.C. Healthcare Association for hospitals. There’s even an N.C. Pest Management Association.
Name a career field and there’s probably an affiliated state-level trade group that’s prepared to dispatch lobbyists to Jones Street at a moment’s notice. Opponents of the teacher rally who have invoked labor strikes and the specter of socialism don’t seem to grasp that reality.
Neither is the May 1 rally a strike or work stoppage. Participants request days off in accordance with established school district policy. It’s the cumulative effect of all those teacher absences that requires districts to cancel classes. When workers go on strike, their employers don’t receive weeks’ or months’ advance notice.
It’s also not the case that your children’s teachers are taking to the street to demand a pay raise. At best, that’s a gross oversimplification. Released in January, the NCAE’s 2019 legislative agenda calls for an increase in per-pupil spending to the national average, investments in student health and safety and passage of a $1.9 billion school construction bond. The group does seek a “multi-year professional compensation and benefits plan for all educators,” but the teacher rally movement is not — and has never been — all about members’ paychecks.
Reasonable people can disagree on specific policy goals. For example, the John Locke Foundation cites research showing there’s no strong correlation between per-pupil spending and student outcomes. Some states stretch education dollars further than others and not every problem can be solved simply by throwing money at it. But participation in the rally doesn’t require unwavering endorsement of the NCAE platform. It’s a show of support for teachers and for public education.
Teachers who make their way to the state capital are exercising three of their five First Amendment freedoms — speech, assembly and petition. We’re proud to support their right to organize and share their sincere concerns with state lawmakers.
Parents who lament the missed instructional time on May 1 should try to see the bigger picture. The professional educators to whom they entrust their children for thousands of hours a year will devote the day to influencing public policy for their students’ benefit. If you really think your kids are being cheated, consider taking the day off from work and taking a family field trip to the N.C. Legislative Building. Stand beside your teachers, meet your representative and senator and share your own views on school funding priorities.
These are memorable lessons for adults and children alike. And even out of the classroom, our Wilson County educators are still teaching.