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‘Walk in’ message: Teachers matter

We hope, and anticipate, that most N.C. teachers will “walk in” rather than “walk out” of schools today. A “walk out” or strike would not only be against the law but send the wrong message about what’s important in this debate – making sure N.C. students get what they need to succeed in school and in life after they graduate.

Effective teachers are the key to achieving that goal. Yet the budget-cutting and policy-making Republican N.C. lawmakers engaged in this past legislative session relegated that fact to the trash bin. In move after move, they enacted policies that not only devalued N.C. teachers, but made their working lives much more difficult.

Class sizes were enlarged, teacher assistant jobs jettisoned, pay raises nixed and job protections eliminated. Educators and their advocates pleaded with legislators throughout the legislative session to change course. Those pleas fell on deaf ears.

So a movement began for teachers to go on a one-day walk out.

But many teachers have rightly said they won’t do that, noting that it would hurt students rather than make a useful point with lawmakers. The NCAE, the North Carolina Association of Educators, was among those discouraging a walk out. President Rodney Ellis said “that only results in teachers losing their positions... there are other ways that we can get our message out.” Thus began the “walk in” idea.

The “walk in,” Ellis said, “is meant to spark discussion among teachers and parents about challenges like spending cuts and low teacher pay.” Supporters of teachers and public schools are encouraged to visit schools, wear red to symbolize support for education, thank teachers in person or leave messages of thanks. Teachers at some schools plan to urge supporters to join school parent groups or volunteer or support schools in other ways. At some schools, there are plans for discussions before and after classes about what teachers are facing each day. “It's about getting parents, educators, administrators, elected officials and everyone together in a school building having conversations about what the challenges and successes are in our public schools,” Ellis said

This sounds like a good approach.

GOP Senate leader Phil Berger last week lambasted the “walk in” as a “political protest orchestrated by unions” and reminded the teachers that “schools have a duty to educate and protect our children.” But it is the legislature that has acted politically and forgotten the needs of N.C. children. Lawmakers, too, are vested – it’s in the state Constitution – with the responsibility to “educate and protect our children.”

Legislators who have criticized the “walk in” might want to walk in themselves. They apparently need some lessons on the valuable and difficult work teachers do in N.C. classrooms. Getting this education might spur lawmakers in the next legislative session to put in place policies that will help, not harm educators. They are doing one of the most important jobs around – teaching the people who will be our future leaders. Short-changing teachers short-changes all of us.

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