Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Letter to the NC General Assembly: I Can No Longer Afford to Teach

 

Dear members of the North Carolina General Assembly,
The language in this letter is blunt because the facts are not pretty. Teaching is my calling, a true vocation, a labor of love, but I can no longer afford to teach.
I moved to North Carolina to teach and to settle in to a place I love. My children were born here; we have no plans to leave. I reassured my family in Michigan, shocked at my paltry pay and health benefits, that North Carolina had an established 200 year history of placing a high value on public education and that things would turn around soon.
When I moved here and began teaching in 2007, $30,000 was a major drop from the $40,000 starting salaries being offered by districts all around me in metro Detroit, but it was fine for a young single woman sharing a house with roommates and paying off student loans. However, over six years later, $31,000 is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance, and since there is simply no way to deduct $600 per month from my meager take-home pay in order to include my husband on my health plan, he has gone uninsured. We work opposite shifts to eliminate childcare costs.
The public discourse on public assistance is that it is a stop-gap, a safety net to keep people from falling until they can get back on their feet. But as I see no end in sight to the assault on teacher pay, I will do what I have to do to support my family financially. We never wanted or expected to live in luxury. We did, however, hope to be able to take our little girls out for an ice cream or not wonder where we will find the gas money to visit their grandparents. And so, even though I am a great teacher from a family of educators and public servants and never imagined myself doing anything else, I am desperately seeking a way out of the classroom, and nothing about education in North Carolina breaks my heart more.
I will make no apologies for saying that I am a great teacher. I run an innovative classroom where the subject matter is relevant and the standards are high. My teaching practice has resulted in consistently high evaluations from administrators, positive feedback from parents, and documented growth in students.
I realize that no one in Raleigh will care or feel the impact when this one teacher out of 80,000 leaves the classroom. I understand. However, my 160 students will feel the impact. And 160 the next year. And the next. My Professional Learning Community, teachers around the county with whom I collaborate, will be impacted, and their students as well. Young teachers become great when they are mentored by experienced, effective educators, and all their students are impacted as well. When quality teachers leave the classroom, the loss of mentors is yet another effect. This is how the quiet and exponential decline in education happens.
Higher teacher pay may be unpopular, and I am aware it is difficult to see the connection between teacher pay and a quality education for students, so I will try to make it clear. Paying me a salary on which I can live means I can stay in the classroom, and keeping me in the classroom means thousands of students over the next decade would get a quality education from me. It’s that simple.
While I appreciate that Governor McCrory is advocating for a 1% raise for teachers in the coming school year, it is simply not enough. For me, that is $380, which after years of pay freezes, does not cover the negative change in my health coverage and copays. It does not cover the change in the cost of a gallon of milk, a gallon of heating oil, or a unit of electricity. It is not enough. A sobering fact: even a 20% raise would fall short of bringing me up to the 2007 pay scale for my current step, and that is in 2007 dollars.
My students deserve a great, experienced teacher. As a professional with two degrees and four certifications, I deserve to make an honest living serving my community and this state.
Respectfully,
Lindsay Kosmala Furst
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I was very afraid to write this letter. People have strong feelings about several of the topics herein, these things tend to take on a life of their own in the internet age, and “going public” means, of course, that when I go back to school next month, I may have to face students who know these quite personal details of my life. While I would not be leaving teaching as a statement or protest of any kind (what I really want to do is teach), I realized that the silent turnover that would happen serves no purpose at all, and that I need to at least let someone know. I’m not sure what kind of reckless abandon overcame me when I went ahead and sent the letters to both the General Assembly and the Raleigh News & Observer, but I knew that once it was out, there was no getting it back.
I feel like I have come out of secrecy. My cards are on the table. This is the reality of being a young teacher in NC right now. We expect recent college grads to suck it up and deal with low pay for a year or two. We expect that at 30, however, young teachers may be starting families or wanting to buy houses. The fact is that those of us who began here in 2007 are only making a few hundred dollars per year more today than when we started, and our benefits have been slashed, negating even that small increase.
With a heavy heart, I have realized that if I want to remain in the classroom, I will have to leave the state. If I want to remain in this state, the place that I chose to be my home, I will have to leave the classroom. At the same time, this advocate of public education is left wondering what will be left for my children when they start school. I can’t express how deeply saddening it is to think that about my own field.
Since this was reported earlier this week, I have received many messages of encouragement. At least a dozen are from other mothers in my position, teaching full time with children on Medicaid and/or WIC, the nutrition assistance program for women, infants, and young children. They thanked me for telling their story as well. So many are afraid to stand up and speak. The public negativity directed at teachers right now is overwhelming, and it is no surprise that many do not want to enter the fray. I cannot blame them. But since I already have, I will do my best to represent them as well.
Thank you for your support.
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Update 1: WOW! I am overwhelmed by the response I have received. Thank you, thank you. Your support is incredible. Thank you for sharing your own stories here, as well. I am reading every single one of them.
Let me say this: While I appreciate difference of opinion, I will not be approving abusive comments. If you see one that has slipped by, please let me know. Thank you.
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Update 2: You guys. Honestly, you bring tears to my eyes. I’m heartbroken to see so many of you feeling the same way. If you want to leave a comment, please scroll to the very bottom where it says “Leave a Reply.”

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