Column: Should I Stay or Should I Go? More Teachers Are Choosing – The Pilot


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Teachers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. Google this topic and dozens of recent articles materialize.For example, in her February article “We Can’t Blame Teachers for Leaving Their Profession,” author Ashley Nguyen states that “an estimated 800,000 public school teachers quit their jobs between January and November 2021 across the nation. A recent poll conducted by the National Education Association indicated that 55 percent of current teachers are considering doing the same.”Teachers are finding that their skills are valued in the corporate world where they receive better pay, a better work-life balance — and greater respect.
Perhaps the wrong question is being asked. Rather than asking “Why are teachers leaving their jobs?” the question should be: “Why are they staying?”Teachers quitting the classroom should not be a mystery. A 2018 cartoon by Joe Heller shows an overworked teacher bewildered at the offer of a pistol to protect students and herself from potential school shooters as she balances a host of other responsibilities in her arms: social worker, part-time parent, disciplinarian, referee, nose wiper, psychologist, abuse detective, nurse and more. All this for meager pay and lack of respect from state governments, school boards, political pressure groups and many parents.The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that a North Carolina teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts at $35,000 annually or $2,916 a month. (A current ad for a Southern Pines math teacher underscores this figure: “Teacher/Licensed Employee” will earn an “employer provided salary of $35K.”) Deduct taxes, mortgage payments or rent, food, car payments and gas, perhaps childcare — our teachers clearly must live on a barebones budget.Unsurprisingly, many public school teachers work second jobs. And many, though underpaid themselves, purchase their own classroom supplies, such as books, pens, pencils, printer ink and frequently snacks for poorer students who may come to school without having eaten that morning or, sometimes, the night before.In recent years, North Carolina has risen from 45th in the nation in teacher pay to 30th this year. Though the change is sluggish, it at least points in the right direction. Perhaps the recent compromise budget between Governor Roy Cooper and the General Assembly, which includes a 5 percent teacher pay raise and a $2,800 bonus from the federal government will alleviate the financial pressures on teachers.Or, perhaps it’s too little, too late.Yes, thousands of teachers are quitting their jobs. The problem now is who will replace them? With more teachers leaving and fewer college graduates entering the field, who is going to replace the well-trained, qualified, competent and licensed teachers who quit because they were fed up?One worrisome byproduct of this teacher exodus is that school boards across the country, populated by angry Trump-supporting politicians, are exploiting the situation to facilitate the exodus of qualified teachers — specifically those they call out as being “progressive.”The Moore County Board of Education presents a microcosm of this problem. Like many school boards across the country, Critical Race Theory has been a hot-button issue here, fueled primarily by a board minority of Trump supporters. This minority trio has repeatedly denounced CRT and stoked division by falsely claiming that it is being taught in classrooms.They choose divisive behavior hoping to influence and eventually manage what is being taught in Moore County classrooms. These same divisive tactics are being used to intimidate those who might possibly resist them — teachers antagonistic to “whitewashing” the K-12 school curricula to suit a far-right political agenda.
One third of this trio, Robert Levy, blew any pretense of objectivity regarding teachers four years ago in a “Pilot” column where he called teachers attending a May 1, 2018, rally “socialists.”He said their rally resembled “workers’ holidays in China and North Korea.” He called their union demands “partisan” and suggested that their rally was an angry, red-fisted Marxist spectacle — a “Communist International Worker’s Day.” He breathtakingly stated that the teachers’ red shirts suggested an “innuendo of socialism” and the “Bolshevik banners displayed during the Russian Revolution.”Levy and his sidekicks are now being supported by a vanguard of local extremists, some of whom participated in or supported the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in D.C. A recent Facebook post by one such participant sponsors a campaign using informers and denunciations to compile an enemies’ list of progressive teachers.This Facebook post solicits, first, the “self-reporting of progressive teachers in Moore County Schools” and then mentions a specific elementary school teacher who was “already on the list from parent reporting.” The third part of this effort urges teachers to report one another: “Hope she sends her radical friends to my page to comment. We will identify them either way.”Yes, far right-wing neighbors are generating enemies’ lists of teachers they deem “progressive” based on self-reporting, colleagues reporting on one another, and parents reporting their children’s teachers to local political extremists. The third item is troubling since it suggests that children are being deployed as informers by their parents.Sound familiar? Tyrants and totalitarian regimes have used informers throughout history to denounce and persecute those who dissent from party dogma. Now, here in Moore County, right-wing extremists are deploying informer/denunciation tactics against local public-school teachers.Teachers who resist this incipient tyranny deserve our respect. But those who decide to leave teaching because they are being harassed also deserve our respect, even though their absence creates a dangerous vacuum.It is bad enough to be chronically underpaid and disrespected, but to be intimidated because your personal political views differ from some rabidly partisan neighbor is not only un-American, it also violates the spirit of tolerance and intellectual curiosity at the core of education.But if such scare tactics work, and the school curricula are successfully reshaped by Luddites hostile to critical thinking and the accurate coverage of social and historical events, then what? At what point does such a school stop being a place of learning and become instead a place of indoctrination, the very thing these critics say they are trying to safeguard against? At what point does a teacher stop being an educator and become instead an apparatchik?If Moore County’s Board of Education and the state General Assembly follow other counties and states intent on imposing reactionary agendas on school systems, citizens should expect more laws like the recent one in Florida. Such laws prohibit “discussions around race and discrimination in public schools and private businesses.” And those laws forbid the use of the word “gay.”Yes, laws forbidding certain words and discussions.Taken to a logical extreme, citizens should not be surprised when public schools become parochial, and when the classrooms are staffed by “teachers” whose credentials have been vetted and approved by proper political “authorities."

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