Teachers march on Raleigh to demand better pay and defend their rights. Photo by Elsie Baker

On May 1, while students were enjoying their day off, many teachers from NC marched in downtown Raleigh for better pay and more funding for public schools.

The march was planned by the NCAE (North Carolina Association of Educators). As the state’s largest education advocacy organization for public school employees, the NCAE represents active, retired and student teachers. The NCAE has planned many marches in the past, the latest one being in May of 2018, which brought an estimated 19,000 educators to downtown Raleigh.

The specific demands of this year’s march included additional funding, which would allow schools to be staffed with psychologists, social workers, nurses and librarians; restoration of extra pay for advanced degrees; an increase in minimum wage for all school personnel to 15 dollars an hour; a 5 percent cost-of-living raise for school employees and retirees; expansion of Medicaid to improve the healthcare of students and their families and for future teachers that may be hired after 2021, the restoration of retiree health benefits.

Jamie Schendt, CHS social studies teacher, is one of many teachers in the CHCCS district who participated in both this year’s and last year’s march. He believes that these marches show students and parents that teachers stay informed and pay attention to the legislature, as well that when teachers feel a need for change, they will act and push for that change in the best way they can.

“I’m not here to say that the marches are what leads to changes in the laws, but I think it at least is showing just how unified the voice of teachers can be in NC,” stated Schendt.

Schendt pointed out how the march could open school employees up to potential criticism. One of the biggest points of criticism concerns pay raises. Critics may point out that there have been three or four consecutive pay raises from the state, yet there was a span over five or six year’s previous to those where pay was frozen.

Critics may also point out that students lose instructional time, especially this year, with all the inclement weather we had. On the other hand, those who participated in the march were willing to give up class time because they felt it necessary to do so. People may or may not be in agreement with losing class time for teachers to make what could be considered a political statement.

Regardless of the march’s positive or negative effects, participants made their voices heard regarding the education system, despite teachers often being expected to remain politically neutral in public spaces.

“To say that teachers aren’t or shouldn’t be political I think is a bit of an unfair hole to put us in or a box to put us in,” Schendt said. “…Everything about our job is political. We don’t get to choose a lot of the things that affect us.”