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We shouldn’t walk out on our students

By Katelyn Stukenberg
Special to the Observer

This year after the dismissal bell rings, I know my work as a teacher is not over. After an eight hour day of pushing my 7th grade students to high expectations, pulling out every piece of their potential and engaging every moment of their attention, I know that it is still not enough. I know that after several recent education law changes having passed that I must now become an advocate, not only for my students but also for myself.

I inevitably find myself reflecting on a lesson I previously presented to my students during Language Arts class. The theme of the day was “Choices” and we analyzed the following quote:

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept the conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” – Denis Waitley

I believe that the majority of teachers will agree that we have reached a point at which we must act in order to safeguard not only our professions, but also the future and wellbeing of our students. We are at a unique and pivotal place in education, where within the next year we will either see a mass exodus of teachers from North Carolina, or a rising up of teachers to demand their voices are represented in education policies and the teaching profession elevated.

However, as teachers we need to use this opportunity not only to address a flawed system, but more substantially to acknowledge that a change must occur in the methodology of policy creation. Following this summer’s controversial education policies one thing has become clear to me: there is a tremendous gap between teachers in the classroom and policy makers in Raleigh.

Understandably, teachers have rallied together to express their disapproval of North Carolina’s low teacher salaries and have declared a walk-out to improve the current conditions. Although I agree with the commitment to the cause of education policy revision, I argue that teachers should take a different route to accomplishing fair and respectful education policies. Teachers need to spearhead the composition of education policy by communicating and partnering with N.C. policymakers.

A walkout will inevitably have the greatest negative consequences for our students. I do not believe they deserve to be walked out on. I have always believed the teaching profession to be noble: one of service, compassion and generosity. Despite my lackluster paycheck, I have held my head high with pride in the fact that we teachers have the most influential and important career in the world.

Let me be the first to say that I abhor these demeaning policies that strip the careers I had once dreamed of working in for decades. However, I am confident that our voices can and will be heard as we respectfully advocate for the teaching profession without exposing our students to additional negative impacts. I believe that our role as teachers extends outside of the classroom and into education policy. These policies are confirmation that we are being called to be the unified voice that bridges the gap between the implementation of policy in the classroom and the composition of policies in the capitol.

I want my students to have access to teachers that are highly effective, valued and treated fairly. I know although these recent policies affect teachers, they will just as greatly affect our students as our state experiences a tremendous loss of our best, most effective teachers and teaching assistants. As research has shown, teachers are the most important school-based variable in student success, and yet the state fails to see the value in investing in quality teachers as an essential commodity. Instead of creating an even greater divide between policymakers and teachers through a teacher walkout, let us use this opportunity to bring the two sides together.

In order to construct this policy bridge, a group of teachers have already started to meet with the mission of becoming the Policy Bridge. This group of teachers seeks to discuss and help enact sensible policies through outreach to our legislators.

Finally, I urge all teachers considering a walk out to reconsider. We are all passionate about changing many of the new education laws, and I am confident that with a unified and informed approach to the current situation, we can both elevate our profession and benefit the students we seek to develop and protect every day.

Stukenberg teaches at Kennedy Middle School in Charlotte. For more information on Policy Bridge, visit www.policybridge.org.
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