The Killing of a Spirit
by Laurene Madern
I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a little girl. The thought of having my own classroom was a dream come true when I entered that first school in Chelsea, Massachusetts as a teacher and not as a student. That was back in 1975. The following years were spent building a home with my husband, raising a family, and teaching. Since I am not the type to sit back idly and watch life pass me by, I spent many years after getting my first degree in pursuit of other degrees, additional certifications, all that would make me the best teacher I could be. I held the position of being a teacher in such high esteem that anyone who ever met me knew within 10 minutes what my job was, what grades I taught, and how passionate I was about my subject area. Sometimes I would analyze myself and think, "Get a life, all you do is talk about teaching." In 1997 I assumed a different teaching position in my county. It was that of a Gifted Resource teacher. My position would entail my guiding the educational routes of about 300 gifted students at 5 different schools. I would be at each school once a week to work with these students, to confer with their daily teachers and to evaluate, if needed, students who may need to exited from the program or the possibility of referring a student who showed gifted traits. I loved this job. Every day was a new challenge. I worked with my gifted students on projects that involved their writing skills, developed SAT strategies for those that qualified for the Duke Identification Program, worked with students to raise money for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Every day was challenging and rewarding and I loved it. My students loved me too, however. Sometimes when I would leave a classroom,they would all but beg "Please stay tell us more stories" they would say. I know I provided open doors for the minds of my gifted students to wonder through.
To enhance my own professional standing I became a National Board Certified Teacher in 1999. It was a grueling process but one I felt was worth the time and energy away from my own family to increase my worth as an educator. In North Carolina, Governor Jim Hunt had also held out a carrot of a 12% raise to any teacher that became National Board Certified (NBC) and I was also tempted by that carrot as North Carolina Teacher"s salaries at that time were ranked 43rd on the national pay scale. 1999 was a banneryear. I had my national boards, I had my 12 %, and I had a teaching position that I found fulfilling and gratifying. Life was grand. In July of 2000 I returned to work as a gifted resource teacher/specialist. On August 16th my world changed. I was called into the central office and informed of a new law passed by the General Assembly of North Carolina. There was a new definition of a teacher in order to receive the NBC monies. To receive the bonus now, a teacher had to be in a classroom 70 % of the day or be doing instructional support personnel work in their area of National Board certification. I was informed I was no longer fit the definition of a teacher. I sat there stunned. I had given my life to teaching. I had been paid as a teacher, not as an administrator. I had earned my sick leave and annual leave as a teacher. At no point in my career had I ever been considered on the administrative level, but now I was not a teacher. But what was I? Well,somewhere in the gray area was where I sat. Not a teacher but not an administrator either but one thing was clear, I was out the 12%. I had worked so hard to achieve those National Boards and what I had always professed to my students was never give up if you think you are in the right. I reached down inside myself and figured the only option I had was to fight city hall or in this case the school system.
My only option to avoid a $5000 dollar pay cut was to return to a classroom but the school year had already begun and most positions were already filled. But luck was with me. In September of that year, another teacher from my former school was leaving my county"s public school system to take a job in an adjoining community. I visited the Principal and explained my position and he was thrilled at the chance of my returning to his faculty. He was well aware of my qualifications and my 10 areas of teaching certifications and knew I would do the best job that I could no matter what the circumstances. So, in September I returned to a general level classroom. I hung my plaques that had named me my county"s first OutstandingTeacher of the Gifted right along with my National Board Certification credentials and I went back to the business of teaching.
However, the more I thought about it the angrier I got. How could these people who have no idea what I did make this decision that would change the way I would look ata classroom forever? I started writing. I wrote to hundreds of politicians, school board members, senators, representatives, any one that I thought could help. I sent packets of information regarding the inequity of the law, the role of educators in this state, and how the bonus monies had been promised to teachers without qualifications as to how many specific hours they had to stand in front of one classroom to qualify as a teacher. In my research of my situation I discovered teachers who were being paid with local funding, teachers who were being paid for their National Boards and were in Instructional Support positions but held certification outside of that area. I found teachers whose counties were not looking at the 70% as the "magic number" as long as they were close to that number. But in my county, the Superintendent decided to only look at the 70% rule. This was more devastation. Why me? Other that the fact that I was from the North and this county is in the rural South, this man knew very little about me. I really do not know why he singled me out but he did. I was the only National Board Certified teacher in this county that worked as a Gifted Specialist but there were others in the state. Their counties were paying them, why was my county not willing to pay me?
Well, I am here to tell you, youcan"t fight city hall. Even a Raleigh news channel came out and did a piece on the inequity of law 8.16 but as of this time there are no changes. So I goto the classroom each day, teach my lessons, and do my best not to shortchange my students. I know that deep downinside me there is a consummate professional teacher who taken her passion for education and buried it. My passion is now a job. And you wonder why there is a teacher shortage?