Mary Horne teaches 20 second-graders in what she calls her “shoebox” — a mobile unit detached from the main building of Salemburg Elementary School.
For a day, the educator left and joined thousands of her fellow teachers wearing red shirts in Raleigh. Horne was one of many educators who traveled to the capitol grounds Wednesday to demand lawmakers provide more money for students and compensation for teachers.
“The reason I went was not for myself,” Horne said. “It was for all my babies in here.”
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) hosted the rally that brought 19,000 marchers to downtown Raleigh, according to reports. According to Sampson County Schools (SCS), 55 teachers from the district requested personal leave to participate.
Inside her class, a lot of the items come out of her pocketbook to make a classroom a good place for students.
“I did not get this job for the salary; I got this job because I wanted to teach the kids who are going to be leading us tomorrow in the future,” Horne said. “This is where it starts and I feel that we’re not where we should be as far as teachers and being able to do things in the classroom to reach students.”
Jenny Edwards, a second-grade teacher at Salemburg, kept an eye on rallies in other states and across the United States. Edwards said it wouldn’t be right if she didn’t make the trip to voice her concerns to legislators.
“Seeing that movement was really inspiring and I wanted to be a part of something like that here in North Carolina,” Edwards said about speaking up for local schools. “Funding has been cut over and over again until it’s at a place where it’s really ridiculous.”
Edwards added that reductions are to a point where the state is below the national average when it comes to student funding. Like many other teachers, she believes the financial investment will benefit children and teenagers in school. Some of the struggles Edwards faces include not having enough copy paper, and textbooks that are 20 years old. She also spends her own money.
“Just this year alone, I probably spent like six or seven hundred dollars for the curriculum,” Edwards said. “Then there’s supplies, paper and ink that I use for my classroom.
“People don’t realize that teachers spend thousands of dollars in their classrooms just to keep it afloat because they love the kids so much and they’re not getting the funding from the government.”
Edwards feels that teacher pay is important, but student funding is essential as well. She also brought up the need for counselors.
“With all of the shootings and things happening on the news, they say the solution is to put armed guards or teachers in schools, but I feel that it’s a mental health issue,” Edwards said. “If we were serving kids at the (elementary level) when the problems are popping up and have counselors available to them, we can probably avoid a lot of those issues once they’re teenagers or adults.”
Bernita Lee, a fifth-grade teacher, said she went for the sake of the children in her classroom. One of her concerns included tattered textbooks. Lee, like many others, spends her own money to meet needs. She feels that many people are unaware of the issue and the reason for the Raleigh rally. She told a story about parents in another district complaining about the rally.
“They said ‘when I was little, my teachers were happy,’” Lee said. “I’m a teacher and I’m very happy, I’ve been teaching for 35 years … I’m not here because of the dollar. I’m here because I love what I do and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with my students.”
Lee thinks it’s unfair for teachers to purchase stuff when parents are investing tax dollars into schools.
“They’re mandated to pay taxes and the taxes are supposed to generate back into the school system and if it is, we’re not seeing it,” Lee said. “What are we supposed to do? You have this call for test scores, but we’re limited with what you can use. I really want my parents to know that. I didn’t go to Raleigh personally for myself, I went for the students of Sampson County.”
Judy Coombs, fourth-grade teacher, agreed while showing books with pages hanging out. She pointed to a Social Studies book showing Mike Easley as the North Carolina governor. He served from 2001 until early 2009. One of latest set of books in her class came out in 2007.
“This is what we have to teach with on a daily basis,” Coombs said.
Teachers such as Lee and Coombs go online for resources, but that comes with a burden.
“There’s lots of good stuff online, but you’re limited in the amount of copies that you can print,” Coombs said. “That limits you.”
Coombs added that technology is another issue, since there’s not enough computers to go around during class lessons.
Lee said she receives donations from parents for the classroom. Some of it includes paper, tissue, hand sanitizer and wipes.
“They give it to us at the beginning of the year, but you go though a cold season between December and February, so you don’t have any tissue left at the end of the year,” Lee said.
In a news release, NCAE President Mark Jewell issued a statement about educators demanding better for students.
“When our elected leaders are proud of being $2,400 behind the national average in per-pupil spending and $9,600 behind the national average in teacher compensation, that is telling,” Jewell stated. “It’s also telling that some of our elected leaders are prioritizing massive corporate tax cuts, instead of putting necessary textbooks and technology into the hands of our students so they have every opportunity at success. Educators, parents and community members have had enough of their children being underserved and will hold legislators who do not support students accountable at the ballot box in November.”
SCS Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy also showed support for more funding for classroom needs.
“We ask so much of our teachers,” Bracy said. “They should be compensated for their hard work and should not have to take money away from their families to buy their own supplies. Many teachers felt their concerns were not being heard and were compelled to rally in Raleigh. My hope is that the legislators and others will hear their plea for help and will respond with more money in salaries and for school operations.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.