More than 60 teachers from the Lincoln County Schools district stepped away from their classrooms and boarded buses to attend the “March for Students and Rally for Respect” in Raleigh on Wednesday, the opening day of the General Assembly’s legislative session. Once they arrived in Raleigh, these educators joined the sea of red marching through the capital city.
“I felt like this was the first time in 27 years I was given the opportunity to advocate for my students on a higher level,” said Leslie Riley, an exceptional children’s teacher at West Lincoln High School. “It was amazing to be around so many people with the same goal. We were all there for our students. It wasn’t about us – it was for our kids. Everywhere you looked there was someone in a red shirt.”
Three of the 12 teachers at Lincoln County School of Technology attended the march.
“I wanted to go because I wanted to support not only myself but all teachers and students in North Carolina,” said Angie Helms, a computer science teacher. “The biggest issue I think we see is lack of funding for the students. I felt it was important to be a part of this event.”
For family and consumer science teacher Hilary Gantt, it was very emotional but amazing as well.
“It was great to see the number of teachers there that were rallying for their students and to see kids walking holding signs that say ‘I love my teacher’ and ‘I’m more than a test score’ and to see parents and the community in Raleigh cheering and clapping as we walked by saying they loved their teachers and support them,” she said. “It sent us back here proud that we were able to go and also ready to continue to be the best teachers that we can be and advocate for our kids and our profession.”
West Lincoln English teacher Somer Nutt didn’t attend the march but she wore her “RedForEd” shirt because she believes some positive changes were needed. During class, she had conversations with her students about the march. When she asked them what the march was about, they replied, unanimously, “pay.”
After that response, she told them to look around and tell her what they saw. The answers were: “Mouse turds. Leaky ceilings. Textbooks that are falling apart. Textbooks with drawings in them (some pretty creative) from the sheer boredom of the subject matter that comes from the standardized test curriculum. Disinterested students playing on their phones. Burned out teachers. Students passed out on their desks from the sweltering heat of a classroom without air conditioning or wrapped up in blankets from the polar opposite.”
While she didn’t attend, Nutt said that she believed the rally was for a great cause and that someone could offer their support in Raleigh, at their school, home or office.
“Some people, for whatever reason, refuse to hear these words from teachers,” Nutt said. “They hear ‘more pay’ and then hear no more. It is my hope that these answers, coming straight from the mouths of my students, will get heard. I honestly believe that if people will simply do their research, they will agree with teachers and students that the school system needs some changes. They may even begin to realize that some of the answers for those changes can come from the experts in the field – the teachers themselves. Negativity has no place here. Think about the children, why would anyone not unite for the good of them? Let’s be positive role models for our future society and continue to teach them how to grow, learn, and find their own way in life, becoming responsible, caring humans that understand what empathy means.”
Of the teachers interviewed for this story who attended the march, they said they didn’t attend to advocate for their pay but for funding for the schools and their students so that they could provide the best education. Yet, according to the National Education Association, North Carolina teachers ranked 39th in the country last year for pay, earning an average salary of about $50,000.
“The majority of signs and the people we talked to were rallying for their previous, current and future students,” Gantt said. “We love Lincoln County and we have pretty much what we need for our students. The per pupil spending in North Carolina is much lower than other states. We teacher because we love our students and as Governor Cooper said, we don’t teach for the income but for the outcome.”
While the ultimate outcome of this march is unknown at this time, Helms believes it has the potential to make a difference given the number of North Carolina teachers who attended the event as well as the students and parents who went as well to support the teachers.
Unlike many districts, LCS didn’t close for the day due to teachers attending the march. LCS superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow thanked the district on Facebook on Thursday.
“I appreciate how our entire school community came together to support teachers and students,” she said. “We sent educators to Raleigh as champions of education but also continued to deliver quality instruction throughout the school day.”
She also thanked the teachers who attended the march and represented LCS.