About That “Why this Durham teacher isn’t going to Raleigh May 16” Op-Ed in the N&O

McCann

By now many of you have read a recent op-ed printed by the Raleigh News & Observer entitled “Why this Durham teacher isn’t going to Raleigh May 16.” It is written by a Math I teacher named Terry McCann who makes the argument that teachers who will be protesting on May 16th are doing so at the cost to students (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/article210705989.html).

Teach long enough in public schools and you will be involved in multiple conversations with those who do not approve of how public education has been administered. Visions of what public education should be and how it should run often divert from expectations; blame is easy to cast around. All teachers do not see the same issues in the same light. That’s perfectly fine.

Mr. McCann has every right to say what he feels. He is allowed to make that public. He doesn’t need anyone’s permission to do so. He has written to the N&O before and been fairly consistent in his views about public education.

But when one makes that opinion public in a widely-read venue, then it is open to discussion and criticism.

And as a veteran teacher, I could not disagree with Mr. McCann more. But I will rally and march for him and the occupation that he holds. In fact, I will march and rally for every student, parent, or citizen who may not agree with the purpose of May 16th because I (along with many) think this is about more than a gathering or peaceful congregation.

It is about protecting a public good and holding elected officials accountable for fully funding that public good.

Mr. McCann obviously is a passionate teacher, but there are some points that he makes that are worth debating.

He says,

“I do not support the movement especially on the backs on our students.”

Asking for the legislature to fully fund public schools and stop diverting monies to other entities as well as giving resources for schools who need them is not placing weight on the “backs of students.”

It is “having students’ backs.”

And it isn’t just about my students; it’s about all students. When Mr. McCann says the word “we” he might be trying to be inclusive of students in general. If anything, every student whom I have had ask me about May 16th has been very supportive of the movement.

“Teachers got a raise last year. The average teacher salary has risen 12 percent over the past five years, from $45,000 a year. Since taking control of the state legislature in 2011, Republicans have raised the starting base salary for new teachers to $35,000 and given raises to other teachers… Republican lawmakers say their goal is to raise average teacher salaries to $55,000 a year by 2020.”

As a math teacher, I would like for Mr. McCann to explain how the current pay schedule that both favors the early years in teaching and seems to neglect veteran teacher salaries could sustain the average he believes that the republicans will have in 2020.

Does he not see that the average currently includes those who have graduate degree pay and many years of experience? As those teachers retire or leave the profession, the average can do nothing but go down.

Plus, Mr. McCann uses that word “average.” If “average” meant “actual,” then there would be no argument. But that’s not the case. Pay raises were not evenly distributed. Beginning teachers received a much larger percentage raise than veterans. That means less actual investment.

And if these raises were so great, then why is NC still over %15 behind the national average for teacher pay?

“We talk about schools being not funded well. Schools and school systems are always asking for more but not showing results. About 39 percent of the state budget goes toward education.”

What results are Mr. McCann talking about? Standardized test scores that are constantly re-normed and subject to countless conversions? Standardized tests that continue to show the effects of poverty?

“All I request from my principal are dry erase board markers and plenty of paper instead of all the latest tech.”

If dry erase markers and paper were all I needed to ensure that students could succeed, then I wouldn’t protest either. But students need so much more: desks, books, food, safety, support, transportation, uniforms, equipment, …etc.

I also ask my principal for support and removing obstacles that could inhibit student achievement.

“I would ask my DPS colleagues protesting this question. ‘Are you doing all you can to TEACH our students?’ Some are but most are not. When teachers set low expectations for students, limited learning outcome are achieved, but when you set the bar high I am never amazed with what I see.”

One of the reasons I am going to Raleigh is because I want to ask lawmakers “Are you doing all you can to allow TEACHERS to TEACH?” To make the assumption that “most are not” doing all that they can is a fairly big accusation. How would Mr. McCann validate that?

“Being a product of a K-12 education in North Carolina I can attest that North Carolina from the ’70s to the 2010s has been on the low end of the totem pole in teacher pay and student expenditure – all under Democratic governors (except for the Jim Martin term) and Democratic General Assemblies.”

Actually North Carolina was considered the most progressive public education system for years in the southeast within the timeframe that Mr. McCann gives. And while there was a democratic party majority for decades, most republican governors were very supportive of spending more money on public education. Currently the state spends around %56 of its budget on education (Mr. McCann actually said %39). In the past, that percentage was HIGHER – nearer to %60. The state constitution stipulates that we do as a state.

“It was until the McCrory administration that I received a substantial raise, having receiving zilch while Perdue was governor. “

Maybe Mr. McCann could make mention that Perdue was governing during the GREAT RECESSION. No one got raises in any government jobs. McCrory gave raises as state revenue started to gain momentum, but those raises came with a price.

Also, that “raise” was funded in part by the removal of longevity pay from veterans. Many of those veterans will be in Raleigh on the 16th.

“The average teacher’s salary is more than triple the minimum wage. It’s also enough to keep a family of nine out of poverty. “

Mr. McCann needs to explain why this statement is valid. There is a difference between minimum wage and a living wage. Besides, when has the minimum wage been raised?

“Should teachers be paid more? Yes! Some teachers should be paid more but some need to be fired! Abolish tenure, reward teachers for excellence in the classroom and reward principals for improving the learning outcomes for kids.”

Merit pay and differentiated pay are initiatives that have never shown to be effective probably because the variables used to measure teachers across the board are too fluid. If Mr. McCann wants to make the argument for proficiency versus growth, then let him.

Also, tenure was abolished. About four years ago for new teachers.

“You are protesting and doing your thing on the students’ time.”

Actually, we will make the class time up.

But what Mr. McCann calls “protesting” seems to be the same as what I would call advocating. And advocating for students and schools is part of my job.

4 thoughts on “About That “Why this Durham teacher isn’t going to Raleigh May 16” Op-Ed in the N&O

  1. I found it so interesting to see that you are facing much of the same (and often invalid) criticism in NC that we just experienced during the #REDforED movement in Arizona. Great job with this piece to weed fact from fiction and keep the dialogue going. You might be interested to check out an AZ blog (www.storiesfromschoolaz.org) where many of us wrote about the #REDforED movement before, during, and after. Best of luck to you all in advocacy on May 16th! Many teachers across the nation rooting for you and the kids you serve!

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  2. Mr. McCann needs to use his math! He also needs to read his history. I don’t know how old he is but I remember Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford being very active in promoting education in North Carolina. Jim Martin did too. In fact, every past governor of both parties promoted and backed sound educational progress. Jim Hunt also governed during a recession and froze teacher pay but as soon as it was feasible he worked to get salaries back to compete with national averages. It is only this legislature of the past several years and McCrory who failed education even while they hypocritically crowed about teacher salary raises.

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  3. Even more offensive…my speech is tagged on to this post and I oppose this idiot’s viewpoint. (See the video which the News and Observer has tagged onto just about every post about this event. )

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  4. What I would like to see those critical of events like the march on May 16 or strikes in other states explain is how despite all the “raises” a new teacher now effectively earns less than 20 years ago. Look up the respective salary schedules and adjust for inflation, cost of living and so on and you will see teachers make less now than before the recession all while cost of living has risen. And that doesn’t just affect high growth areas like the Triangle and C/Meck but also rural areas who are struggling anyway. That’s one of the main reasons why there are fewer young people considering going into teaching in NC even though that’s their “calling”. But hey, let’s complain about a lack of “quality teachers”, Mr. McCann…

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