12/15/11 — Educators share funding concerns

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Educators share funding concerns

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 15, 2011 1:46 PM

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Allison Carter

Angela Joyner, left, a teacher at Grantham School, discusses how lack of planning time affects her family life. Also pictured are Rolanda Best, center, principal at Greenwood Middle School, and Cathy Eubanks, principal at Eastern Wayne Middle School.

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Allison Carter

State Sen. David Rouzer, left, and Rep. Jimmy Dixon listen as Rep. Stephen LaRoque responds to a question asked Wednesday at Meadow Lane Elementary School by members of the district's Principals and Assistant Principals Association. The organization invited the legislators to come to the school for a question-and-answer session on education issues.

Angela Joyner has dedicated 20 years to the teaching profession.

But these days, she finds herself worried -- about retirement, health costs, lack of planning time in the classroom.

"We have teachers who come to school at 7 o'clock and we leave at 5 o'clock," she told a panel of legislators gathered at Meadow Lane Elementary School Wednesday afternoon, the emotion catching in her voice as she spoke. "We're professional people. We take our job seriously. We love our students, and we want to do the best we can for them.

"It's very difficult to have a workday and to plan for our students, to differentiate for every single need in the classroom."

Mrs. Joyner, a teacher at Grantham School, said recent changes to the school calendar and teacher workdays have created problems for educators. In contrast to previous years, when the state introduced changes to curriculum on a staggered schedule, this is the first year N.C. has introduced a "brand new curriculum" in all subject areas, she said, requiring teachers to spend workdays learning about the "common core" subjects.

Next year, she explained, it will be even more challenging, as the state adds five additional student days, but has not taken into account the need for teachers to have sufficient planning time.

As a result, she, like many other teachers, is learning to be creative. Most evenings, she said, she and her husband, also a teacher at Grantham, will grade papers and take turns on the computer preparing lesson plans, while their 17-year-old son does his homework.

That, Mrs. Joyner said, is their "family time."

"I love my job," she said. "I want to be a teacher. I have always wanted to be a teacher."

Her concerns, though, are representative of what those in the profession are experiencing, she said.

"We're concerned about the retirement. We're concerned that we haven't had a pay raise, there's been a pay freeze for four or five years," she said. "Now we're bringing home less pay.

"We're going to try to send our son to college. But we don't have enough saved up to send him to college."

The two-hour session, hosted by the Principals and Assistant Principals Association, drew Rep. Efton Sager, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, Sen. David Rouzer and Rep. Stephen LaRoque. A dozen principals and teachers were selected to attend the session, purposely kept small to allow for a more intimate setting, said Debbie Ogburn, PAPA president and principal at Meadow Lane.

Andrea Malpass, a first-grade teacher at Tommy's Road Elementary, highlighted some of the educators' concerns -- from being overworked and underpaid, to anticipated changes of the pay date for 10-month employees.

"If you searched this country over, this world over, you wouldn't find a more conscientious group than teachers," she said. "We spend a lot of personal time, personal money, our banks are just about empty, physically, financially and otherwise, because we have the desire to meet our children's needs, be they academic or social or emotional.

"We're not able to go into that classroom fully prepared."

Dixon, in his first term as representative in Duplin County, asked about the timing of the meeting.

Mrs. Malpass, a minister's daughter, said, "The 'good girl thing' is to take what we're given to do and we do it and we do it all with a willing heart, No. 1 because we love children.

"The reason we're coming forward now is because we have nothing left to give. We can't keep our heads above water any more. I'm so overwhelmed with the tasks I'm supposed to do. But my main priority is my children -- those 22 6-year-olds in that classroom."

For a long time, educators have had a role to play, said David Lewis, principal at Rosewood Elementary School. He pointed out that the start and end times for the school year have placed difficult constraints on educators, who have "lost flexibility" and are "handcuffed" to pack everything in.

"What we need is the flexibility to intersperse those teacher workdays," he suggested. "If we have a hurricane in September or snow in February, we're in trouble."

LaRoque took issue with several things in the schools -- including childhood obesity and the lack of physical education time, the validity of retesting students on end-of-grade tests, and students "doing nothing" but watching movies the last two weeks of the school year.

Dixon said he has had a problem with the way education was handled in the past, but believes it is "foolish" to suggest that the schools are failing.

"It's not the schools that are failing," he said. "It's the moms and dads, it's DPI (Dept. of Public Instruction). It's a lot of people that are failing but the schools are not failing."

LaRoque asked for more information, as well as some ideas for solutions.

"Give us specifics of what you want changed, how you want it changed, and I think legislators will take action," he said.

Sager recommended the educators monitor legislative websites to keep abreast of changes being made, and invited them to attend legislative committees and speak up.