When Carly Deal opened the door to her brand new classroom at Lawrence Orr Elementary, she burst into tears.
She’d been picturing this scene for most of her 22 years, since the days when she’d line up her Barbies and stuffed animals, take attendance and read them a story.
Now it’s real. Carly Deal is a teacher.
“I’ve been thinking about it for years and years,” the 2015 UNC Wilmington grad says, her voice laced with awe.
In a season that epitomizes fresh starts, it doesn’t get much fresher than this: Deal is a second-grade teacher at Orr Elementary in east Charlotte, one of four new Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools opening Monday.
Deal will be among more than 600 first-year teachers in CMS, a dozen of them working with her at Orr. CMS has provided summer training and promises them all mentors. At Orr, Principal Kimberly Vaught says she made sure to hire veteran teachers who are good at coaching colleagues as well as teaching kids. They’ll work with new teachers on a daily basis, she says.
Deal also takes her place in a proud tradition: Her mother became a teacher 40 years ago. Her first job was also teaching second grade, at Hidden Valley Elementary.
This summer Pam Deal retired. A little over a week ago, she helped her daughter lug in the wooden rocking chair she used in her classrooms, along with boxes of her old books, stuffed animals and classroom supplies. They’ll mingle with the newer touches, such as 10 classroom iPads and an Apple TV provided by CMS.
It’s a tight ship, but it’s a love ship.
Carly Deal, lifted from her mom to describe a great classroom
Carly Deal says she has always admired her mom and her teachers. She volunteered to help sharpen pencils. She sobbed when she flunked a math test in third grade. She thrived on the challenging International Baccalaureate program offered at North Mecklenburg High.
As a teacher’s daughter, Deal saw the downside of the profession. As a teenager she watched recession-driven pay freezes drive North Carolina toward the bottom of national rankings for teacher pay. While educators stressed over job ratings and school grades based on student test scores, the state revoked pay for advanced degrees.
Carly was thrilled to be chosen as a N.C. Teaching Fellow, a program that paid $26,000 toward her college education in return for four years of teaching in the state. It’s an outstanding program, she says, but lawmakers abolished it in 2011, right after she was chosen. Deal is among the final group to graduate.
Last summer, Pam and Carly Deal went to Raleigh together for a Moral Monday protest, joining hundreds of others decrying what they called an assault on public education.
Last year state lawmakers gave rookie teachers a $2,200 raise, to $33,000 a year, acknowledging that salaries had gotten too low. There’s talk of another raise this year, but for now the pay scale remains in limbo while the state continues to wrangle over a budget.
While Deal admits flirting with the notion of being a professional dancer or a wedding consultant, she was never really deterred from her mission.
“I’ve always believed education is the foundation of life,” she says. “It’s a little undervalued right now in the state of North Carolina, but I can’t imagine doing anything else as a career.”
Pam Deal put in 38 years, with a couple off when she had her two children, before retiring as a kindergarten teacher at Cabarrus County’s Cox Mill Elementary. She’s worked with a lot of rookie teachers over the years.
“You can tell which ones are going to make it because they have the light in their eyes,” Pam Deal says. “Then you see the others and you know they’re not in the right place.”
I don’t know if there’s a gene for teaching, but there might be.
Carly Deal, on multigeneration teacher families
Carly Deal took the job at Orr after Vaught, herself a UNCW alum, made a recruiting trip to Wilmington.
Vaught interviewed 13 prospective teachers at a Starbucks there. Deal was one of two who got an offer. Vaught says she was struck by the young woman’s empathy and emotional intelligence.
“Lots of people can answer the right questions the right way,” Vaught says. “I want to hear heart.”
Most students at the school, built to relieve crowding at Hickory Grove Elementary in east Charlotte, will come from low-income homes. High-poverty schools are often viewed as the toughest teaching assignments. But Deal believes she can overcome obstacles by building a relationship with each child who walks through the door.
She also understands that things will go wrong. In college she learned about the stages of being a new teacher: Anticipation, survival, disillusionment and recovery.
As a student teacher, she started a “smile file” to get her through the rough spots. The pink and white polka-dotted folder is stuffed with sweet notes from students – plus a worksheet from a student who was assigned to draw a cartoon illustrating the vocabulary word “cooperation.”
“Sometimes Daddy dosn’t use cooperation words,” the student wrote. “He uses bad words.” The drawing shows the words “Tar Heels are losing” coming from the TV set, and the speech balloon above Daddy’s head contains ... well, you can imagine.
When the children file in Monday morning, Carly Deal will be on her own. Second-grade teachers used to get assistants, but many of those jobs have fallen victim to budget cuts.
Pam Deal keeps reminding her daughter that every new teacher feels overwhelmed. Don’t expect too much from the first day, she advises. If you get the kids fed and send them home on the right bus, “anything else you do is icing on the cake.”
Still, Carly Deal thinks about all the teachers she’s had over the years. She remembers each one.
“Oh my gosh,” she says quietly. “Now a child is going to remember me that way: My second-grade teacher, Ms. Deal.”
And her voice quivers just a little.
Tips for CMS families
▪ Be sure to check your child’s bus assignment; it may have changed since last year.
▪ To report a late or missing bus, call 980-343-6715. Allow for first-day delays.
▪ If you’re new and have not yet enrolled your children, take them to their assigned school. Details: www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/StudentPlacement or 980-343-5335.
▪ For more back to school information: www.cms.k12.nc.us/mediaroom/backtoschool
▪ Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has hired just over 600 beginning teachers, about 31 percent of the new hires for 2015-16.
▪ Statewide, North Carolina hired 5,500 teachers with no experience last year.
▪ As of 2014-15, teachers with no experience made $33,000 on the state pay scale. Many school districts supplement that. In CMS, starting pay was $37,947. Pay for 2015-16 has not been established because the state legislature has not passed a budget.
▪ As of Friday, CMS still had 95 teacher vacancies, a rate of about 1 percent.
Follow first-day news
Many school districts use social media to post updates and answer questions on the opening day of school. Here are the Twitter handles for districts in the Charlotte region. Many individual schools also tweet reports (and watch for the Observer’s updates at @theobserver).