I've seen a lot of back-and-forth about the education changes in this year's state budget. But an email from Justin Ashley, a fourth-grade teacher at McAlpine Elementary, to House Speaker Thom Tillis, stands out.
I wanted to first thank you for your service to our state. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to make so many decisions that impact so many people.
I'm sure that being a politician can be a lot like playing the part of Batman: people are always questioning whether you are a hero or a villain when all you really want is to protect Gotham City. I appreciate the sacrifices you have made for the Tar Heel state.
Secondly, I would like to tell you my story:
Choosing a career path is frightening, especially when you're 17. I weighed my options between Burger King manager and the armed forces. My options were few and far between, as I was residing in a low-income, single parent home at the time.
My career perspective widened when my school counselor informed me of a possible scholarship opportunity. We decided to give it a shot. I wrote an essay, filled out some paperwork, and participated in a scholarship interview at UNC Charlotte.
A few weeks later, I ripped the letter open from my mailbox:
"Congratulations. You have been awarded a full scholarship to a North Carolina University."
I will never forget reading those words with water-filled eyes. For the first time in my life, I felt fully empowered to overcome mediocrity.
I opened that letter ten years ago. In that defining moment, I accepted the full scholarship as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow and graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2007.
Currently, I teach 4th grade in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. I have been a father to boys and girls at school who don't have them at home . I have helped raise test scores and created a fun learning environment for kids. I love my job.
In February, I was even fortunate enough to walk across a stage in Greensboro and accept the award for the North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year.
And even though my salary would be higher as a Burger King manager, I'm grateful for the door that was opened for me, for the founders of the scholarship program, for the General Assembly (years ago) that allocated funding for my scholarship, and for the taxpayers who provided the investment in the first place. I've been able to change lives because these people changed mine. And I'm just one of the thousands of stories, stories that represent better teaching and better learning because of of our great state's dedication to our public education system.
A few weeks ago, our state legislators passed a budget that eradicated the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship. They also terminated teacher tenure and additional pay for teachers with master degrees, along with a host of other public education cutbacks that total approximately 500 million dollars.
With these sweeping changes, I can't help but wonder:
How many state teacher of the years did our current General Assembly just eliminate from the classroom?
How many doors were just shut in the face of so many talented teacher candidates?
My heartfelt message to our current General Assembly and Governor:
As you create bills and budgets involving education, please don't marinate on the massive numbers of educators and students. Instead, visualize your favorite teacher as a child, the one who spoke words of vision and hope into you. The one who invested her time, energy, and love into your life so that you could become the leader you have grown to be. Do you see her? Now, use your resources to enable teachers just like her to do for others what she did for you.
Great teaching is the golden ticket for our schools. Teachers are the solution. Help us help our kids. Hold on to great teachers right now before it's too late. Create opportunities and incentives that attract new teachers for the future. You have the keys to the door.
And closed doors can quickly be reopened...
2013 North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year
2013 North Carolina History Teacher of the Year
2011 CMS East Zone Teacher of the Year
That last line is important: Closed doors can be reopened.
There's a lot of anger and frustration about what happened in Raleigh this summer. But the folks who cast those votes are people we elected from our own communities. And now they're back.
In the coming weeks, I hope to get the members of Mecklenburg's legislative delegation to share their thoughts about what their actions mean for education and to talk about what comes next. Meanwhile, remember that you can find contact information for members of the House and Senate at the General Assembly web site.
The public discussion about the future of education in North Carolina shouldn't fade with summer. If you manage to open any doors, let me know.