Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dear North Carolina

Dear North Carolina,

I began writing this on the shores of your beaches.  I write this as an alumna of a university in your mountains.  I write this as a native who has traveled the country, and yet I've never wanted to call anywhere else home.  I write this as a state employee; I write this as a public school teacher.

North Carolina, you're breaking my heart.

I wish you could see the faces of my children, but they're just numbers to you.  No, I'm not a mother; I'm a teacher.  It's interesting to me how, when you start teaching, children go from being "those kids" to "these kids" to "my kids".  Those kids, these kids, are your kids, North Carolina.

There's a saying at my workplace:  once yours, always yours- meaning that, once a child has been in your class, they're your student forever.  After my first year of teaching, I have 26 children- 22 six year olds at a time, about a third of which who have varying degrees of special needs, and usually by myself, thanks to your cutting Teacher Assistant positions.

As a teacher, I'm not in it for the income- I'm in it for the outcome.  I know that.  I get it.  I live it daily.  At the same time, a girl's got to pay her bills and buy groceries.

Hear me clearly:  I was perfectly aware that I was not signing up to get rich, and I'm fine with that.  I'm great with that, actually- material things have never been the way to my heart.  However, a living wage in a career that has a minimum requirement of a four year degree is not too much to ask.  I've been researching- my search isn't complete yet, but I've found enough to know I'm dangerously close to qualifying for public assistance.  I may actually qualify and just haven't found where to look yet.  Hear me clearly on this, too:  I do not have a problem with public assistance.  At all.  I've seen the ways it helps people and makes their lives better.  I believe public assistance is for those who need it.  An able-bodied 23 year old with a college degree who is employed full-time by the state should not need it, should not even be close.

Oh, North Carolina.  I wish I could tell you the number of times well-intentioned people who love me have encouraged me to take my college degree into the private sector, to go somewhere where I am appreciated, both in financial compensation and in regards to respect.  I wish I could tell you how many scoff at the Master's degree I'm pursuing- in Special Education, no less- and ask, "for what?"  

"For what?"
...for those 26 little faces.  For teaching a student who has autism to read, to hear him say "I can read! I am so happy I have tears!" For the notes with 1st grade spelling, "I love Ms. Moran becos she is nise and good to me and becos she loves me too.  She mex me happy."  For the student who told me I'm the only person who has ever been proud of him.  For the "Hey, Ms. Moran!" and a hug in the hallway from kids I've never taught.  For the progress I've seen with the student who knew about half of the alphabet at the beginning of the school year to be reading on grade level by the end of a school year- more than two years worth of growth.  For students who couldn't count this time last year to be doing addition and subtraction, and they can explain why it works.  For the opportunity to give kids a chance to be better.  For kids to give me a chance to be better.

Those children, these childen, your children are your future, North Carolina.  They are your most valuable resource- more than any energy source.  They are your greatest investment- more than any federal bail out.  Please, be careful.  Putting as many as you can into a classroom is not okay.  Cutting the number of school employees- people who teach them, love them, and keep them safe- is not okay.  Wake up and look around and see their value.  See their potential.  Give them the resources they need to reach that potential.  You owe it to them.  They are so, so worth it.  And I promise, they'll pay it forward.