GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Guilford County Schools (GCS) teachers began their "Walk-In" Day Monday morning, as part of a statewide effort to exhibit appreciation for teachers. GCS says the effort positively counters an idea that originally started on social media--a plan for teachers to walk out of their classrooms in protest of the budget's teacher pay freezes and end of teacher tenure.
Someone used a pseudonym to create the Facebook page that initially called on teachers to walk out. The page garnered national attention and criticism from both the public and North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). The NCAE appealed to state school districts to instead consider other means of expressing teacher support. Many districts have opted to conduct a "walk in."
In its "walk in," GCS invited parents, lawmakers and some community members to observe classroom work on Monday morning. In the lobby of Northern Elementary School in Greensboro, the Guilford County PTA has set up a table at which parents and students are being encouraged to write "thank you" notes to their teachers. Teachers, students and some parents sported the color red Monday morning.
Teachers say students are the ones paying the price for the budget cuts.
"We have a table that is probably two feet away from the board. I sit at that table. It's not a desk. There are roughly 35 desks in that room," Grimsley High School Senior Derek Bingham said. "It's proven, in a lot of studies, that having a small classroom gets you to know your teacher better. I think having that personal relationship with a teacher is what makes a student stronger."
Students have noticed their classrooms are getting a bit more crowded as their teachers struggle to pay their own bills. Even North Carolina's teacher of the year, Karyn Dickerson, acknowledges the frustration.
"I think morale is low because we have been asked to do so much more with less. So, when you're looking at new standards, changes to career status, when you're looking at the loss of master's pay, I think teachers feel like they are being devalued as a profession right now," Dickerson said.
Organizers understand that writing a few thank you notes or wearing a red ribbon will not solve the problems. However, the walk-in day is a way to get the conversation started.
"I think it's a lot more effective than having the teachers walk out. I think it shows the teachers the support that they need and I think that the legislature will take note," parent Elizabeth Bengtson said.
Guilford County Association of Educators President Elizabeth Foster added, "I would hope that the conversation is not just griping, but actually coming up with solutions. We can't be expected to do our job with no resources, but we have to let folks know about that."
Northern Elementary School principal Teresa Kennedy said even if the original "walk out" idea had generated support, she does not believe GCS teachers would have walked out on students. She said the district always has been in favor of expressing teacher appreciation in ways that are not detrimental to students' education.
In July, the North Carolina legislature passed a budget that froze teacher salaries for the fifth time in six years, made room for class size expansion and ended teacher tenure. Kennedy said though she knows these provisions are unlikely to change until possibly the next legislative session, she believes it is important for teachers to know they are appreciated for the work they do.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools spokesperson Theo Helm said he is not aware of any "walk in" or "walk out" movements in his district. He said instead, the district is planning a time in which it will invite the community to walk in to the classrooms to observe. That effort is planned during Community Educator Week, scheduled the week before Thanksgiving.
Burlington-Alamance County Schools said it is encouraging the community to wear red on Monday.
In light of "Walk In" day, the statewide, non-partisan group public Schools First North Carolina said it is holding a "Speak Out NC" event at noon on the south lawn of the state Capitol.
Senator Phil Berger released the following statement today criticizing the walk-in:
"We appreciate the overwhelming majority of our teachers whose hard work and commitment are vital to the success of our children. And we appreciate the right of North Carolinians to exercise their first amendment rights, and welcome a productive dialogue.
"But we don't appreciate the bully tactics of an organized union that puts kids' safety at risk to gin up its membership and inflate the salaries of its executives. There is a time and place for everything - our schools are not the place for politics and our children should not be the pawns."
According to numbers from the North Carolina Association of Educators, over the past several years, the state has slashed the budget and cut several education-related programs. The group's complaints include cuts to funding for 5200 teaching positions, cuts to more than 3800 teacher's assistants and cuts to instructional materials.
2 Wants to Know looked at recent budgets, and the numbers back up NCAE's claims. In the 2010 fiscal year, the budget was cut by $275 million dollars. The overall education budget increased, but teacher salary and textbook money still got reduced.
Brian Lewis, Chief Lobbyist and Political Director for the NC Association of Educators, says this document explains more about why teachers are upset: http://www.ncae.org/wp-content/uploads/LegislativeUpdate2013.pdf