After a day of signs and cheers and red clothes and pancake breakfasts for teachers, I bet I'm not the only person wondering: Is anything going to change for N.C. teachers? If so, what's the plan and who's making it?
The Walk-In/Walk-Out day has tapped into what seems to be a widespread sentiment that our state's teachers deserve a better deal, as teacher pay and per-pupil spending slump toward the bottom of national rankings and the state throws challenges and changes at public educators.
|Parents and students at Elizabeth Lane Elementary|
But sentiment isn't action. The build-up to Nov. 4 illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of social media organizing.
It started when the pseudonymous "Mike Ladidadi" created a Facebook event called "Nov. 4th NC Teacher Walkout." The call for action was couched in broad terms: "We want more respect for teachers. Specifically a fair balance between workload, expectations and compensation for our teachers. Help needs to come from both the state government and from unengaged parents who need to take an active role in their child's education."
As the idea circulated among teachers, administrators, journalists and others, it morphed into the notion of a "walk-in," bringing parents, students and community members together to show support for teachers. While the tone of frustration with recent legislative action was present, there didn't seem to be any clear agenda here, either.
Things took some odd twists as the event neared. I had assumed "Ladidadi" was a teacher worried about protecting his job. But last week a conservative/Libertarian N.C. blogger known as Lady Liberty posted that she traced the name to a Wilmington real estate broker who, "as far as I can tell, has no horse in the teacher grievances race other than he himself thinks they aren’t being treated fairly." (The irony of a pseudonymous blogger unmasking a pseudonymous organizer isn't lost on me, but Lady Liberty identified herself to me as A.P. Dillon, a Holly Springs mom who says she doesn't want her school-age child to get caught in the political crossfire.)
|Lady Liberty 1885|
That's not all: A group called Organize 2020 emerged as a voice pushing for walk-in events on Nov. 4. You'd be hard-pressed to identify that group from its web site, but the @Organize2020 Twitter profile describes it as "a member-led group within the NCAE advocating for teachers." Organize 2020 appears to be the source of a statement saying the North Carolina Association of Educators "affirm(s) the desire and right of educators to use tactics like a walkout or strike," which prompted Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to call for the state's attorney general to intervene. The NCAE, which had already publicly declined to endorse the walk-out, removed the link to that statement.
Bottom line: The GOP majority in the state legislature translated some prevailing sentiments (accountability and choice improve education, the teacher pay system is a failure) into plans. The question is whether the folks who don't like those plans have a strategy of their own. As Superintendent Heath Morrison often notes, public officials and advocates who say teachers deserve a raise need to be prepared to talk about where the money will come from.
The coming weeks and months will tell whether this was a step toward a real movement -- and if so, what that movement means.