They work second jobs. They buy their kids’ school supplies. They’re losing support staff. They don’t have enough pencils. Nine local teachers share their stories.
Carla Tavares is a third-grade teacher at Jones Dairy Elementary in Wake Forest. She came to North Carolina eleven years ago from Rhode Island, where she also taught.
“We work more than forty hours a week. We work all night, all weekend. I substitute [during breaks] and I teach reading camp just to make ends meet. As a single parent, part of this is about being able to sustain my household. Being able to send my children to college. But I chose this profession because I feel like it’s a calling, and it’s part of my responsibility to advocate for the things that I believe are not right. We need our support staff, teacher assistants, not just cutting positions and expecting teachers to do more with less. I know what it’s like to be in a classroom where you don’t have what you need. I have spent a lot of money on books to accommodate my own needs in my classroom.
“For me personally, it’s about the kids, and I would like to be able to feel like I’m respected as a professional. We don’t get treated as professionals. If you want your teachers to be happy, you want your schools to have a working community, and there are some things that go with the territory. I took a huge pay cut to come here. And to feel like I’m just within the last couple years making what I was making eleven years ago is pretty pathetic.”
Symone Kiddoo splits her time as the only social worker for Forest View and Southwest elementary schools in Durham. She also runs a construction company and a farm with her husband and works as a pool desk attendant at a YMCA and as a Girl Scout troop leader.
“A lot of our kids go years without any kind of formal mental-health treatment. A kid can’t learn if he’s got anxiety or depression or ADHD or PTSD. They’re not focused on what’s going on in the classroom. They’re focused on what’s going on in their heads.
“At one of my schools, I share the office with the school psychologist and then also the bilingual family liaison. If she wants to have a meeting, then the two of us need to leave; I can’t pull a student and talk to a student because there’s no privacy. There’s no confidentiality. We usually find somewhere else to go. Hallways, nurses’ station—which is where the bathroom is. They don’t have as good of a relationship with me because they don’t see me individually. They don’t feel heard or they don’t feel like their time is valuable. So there’s a lot of stuff that I think ends up going unaddressed for students when it comes to mental health or social-emotional needs because, one, there’s not somebody there that’s able to meet with the student, or, two, there’s just not enough space to do it in.”
Sam Nguyen is the gifted specialist at Seawell Elementary in Chapel Hill. She’s also a mom, tutors, runs a STEAM club, and facilitates teacher-development courses for Carrboro Chapel Hill City Schools.
“If you ask any teacher what they’re here for, they’re here to do what’s best for kids and what serves them well, and that’s what I’m standing up for, because right now that’s not what’s happening, and I’m tired of not saying something. We give and we give and we know that it’s good and that’s why we keep doing it, but as I’ve entered mid-career, I’ve had to reassess. How much do I give without getting?
“I think it’s a normal teacher thing that we’re so open to giving in that way that we also have to remember to take care of ourselves and advocate for ourselves. Especially with it being Teacher Appreciation Week, I can only take so many thank-you-for-what-you-dos. It sustains my heart, but it doesn’t sustain my family. When it’s individual parents saying really meaningful things—those things still matter so much—but it’s the empty talk that we get from people who are in charge who really haven’t spent a day in our shoes and yet tell us how things are.”
Eli Seed is a high school English teacher at the School for Creative Studies in Durham. An educator for twenty-two years, he also runs a farm with his wife.
“A lot of students come to us with very little of their own. We’re a pretty huge support system for a lot of kids. They’re hurting at home, and now that support system is being damaged as well.
“My largest class right now is thirty-four students, and that’s as many students as I’ve ever had on a roster. We’re not able to do as many projects. We’re not able to do as many group-oriented activities because there’s just not space for it. A few years ago, I had another class of thirty-four, and I only had thirty-one desks. It was never a factor because there was always a minimum of three people absent. That’s the kind of thing that, with the right funding and staffing, people would be looking into that, and we would be providing services more effectively.”
“My wife and I, we’re college sweethearts who have been married over twenty years and lived in the same house for over twenty years, and it’s an old house that was falling apart and we fixed it up. We’ve started a business. We have a little more than two-point-five kids and they’re all cute and spread out. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was a public school teacher, we would be just the apple of [Senate leader] Phil Berger’s eye, and he would want to hold us up as examples of a good ol’ American, North Carolina family.”
Turquoise Parker is a second-grade teacher at Eastway Elementary in Durham. In addition to teaching, babysitting, and tutoring, she is also a marching band instructor and competition judge.
“I love Eastway so very much and one hundred percent of that is the children. I have a very strong passion for teaching racial and social justice to elementary kids and especially doing that with kids of color—and especially doing that with kids of color who are living in poverty and some of whom are homeless and are in a major life transition. Giving them that information and helping them to become critical thinkers is going to help them literally break barriers in their own lives, in their own families, change their world, change their entire trajectory.
“I love to do classroom transformations, where I’ll turn my classroom into different things like I turned it into The Wiz, the yellow brick road. I turned it into a football stadium, a soccer field, the Olympics. We did a winter wonderland so it was snowy and icy all around the classroom. Last year, I did a surprise field trip with my class to Charlotte for the weekend, and it was the most amazing thing ever. For several of my kids, that truly changed their lives beyond words. The majority of them had never been out of Durham.
“Literally all the things that make my classroom pop and are engaging and exciting and make you want to come inside are things that were donated—or we bought them.”
Sheryl Davis teaches fourth grade at Joyner Elementary Magnet School in Raleigh. She previously taught in Virginia for ten years and has been in North Carolina for two years. She has always had a second job.
“I moved to North Carolina in the hopes of not teaching anymore. I was going to walk away. I moved to North Carolina and I got into retail. When I did that, something was missing. So I got into Wake County and I wanted to get back into teaching. And since I’m back in, I’m happy. But my fight in Virginia is the same fight I’m having in North Carolina: doing more with less. Doing what we’re expected to do, and each year things get less and less and less. This is my second year at Joyner Elementary School. It is fantastic. Our administration supports us; our parents are extremely supportive. However, teachers are very good at using what we have to do the best that we can. Every day we see children who need extra support. If someone falls and hurts themselves, we have a half-time nurse. We make do with what we have—we’re nurses, we’re counselors. We pull the weight when it’s not there. And we run a well-oiled machine with what we’ve got.
“Ever since the day I walked into my own classroom I’ve had a second job. From Virginia to North Carolina I have had a second job. I work at PNC Arena at the box office. I also work at AMF bowling alley. The teacher down the hall teaches yoga before school and sometimes after school. Probably very few don’t have some additional subsidy to their income.
“I have had to purchase books and supplies to do science experiments. I just give everybody a fresh pencil, glue sticks, dry erase markers, tissues, wipes. I’ve never not used my own funds. We do it so well that people don’t realize how much of it is ours or how late we stayed up to make this experiment or this activity the best that we could possibly make it. A lot of it is, I put in the work in the background for you to see this on the front.”
Yohannes Kibret is a world history and American history teacher at Broughton High School in Raleigh. He also works at Your Pie in Cary.
“I don’t have a lot of free time. I don’t spend a lot of time with friends or family. It’s time-consuming and it’s exhausting.
“Every single child has a different learning style and they process information differently. If you have a classroom size of thirty-two or larger, it makes it very difficult to plan for the individuals that are in the classroom, so a lot of kids fall between the cracks because I just can’t give them the attention that they need to understand the lesson that I’ve planned. It also makes it very difficult to grade.
“I wouldn’t have signed up for this if I knew to this extent what I was signing up for. There’s not a month that goes by where I don’t think at least once about leaving this profession. I love it. I love the kids and I love doing what I do. There are no boring days in this job, but I wasn’t expecting this as a sophomore in college when I picked my major.
“I kind of knew what I was signing up for in terms of the salary. Just like everyone else, I understood that, but I did not expect to have a broken air conditioning, broken projector, paint chipping in my classroom, and class sizes of almost forty students.”
Andi Mariategui is a fourth-grade English-language arts teacher at Eastway Elementary. On weekends, she leads tours at Durham Distillery. She previously worked in Chicago, where teachers are unionized.
“I was always super grateful and active in my union in Chicago but hadn’t really realized quite how important it was until it was gone. We got paid for having a master’s degree and for getting extra-credit hours. I have a master’s degree and an ESL certification, and all of those things increased my pay, as they should. Here you don’t have that. So there’s less incentive here to seek those advanced degrees and extra certifications, and teachers still do it, which is amazing and shows teachers’ dedication here in North Carolina. That’s a big difference.
“Speaking about physical items, we have completely run out of pencils. I have a pencil captain who’s in charge of keeping the pencils sharpened and passing them out but also collecting them and making sure we have the same number we started with because we can’t afford to lose any more at this point. I only have one pack left in my secret cabinet. Hopefully we make it through the next four weeks.”
Shana Broders is a fifth-grade teacher at Wake Forest Elementary in Wake Forest. She also tutors during the week.
“If you walked into a classroom that was supplied just with what the state gives you, it would be the saddest, little dreary place ever. Everything you see on those walls, the bright colorful anything, a teacher has bought and brought into that classroom. You don’t get posters, you don’t get letters, you don’t get anything.
“[Teaching] does spread you thin. It does wear you down. I feel like I’m tired and I don’t have anything left to give to my own kids often when I get home. They get shafted for the kids I teach. But I specifically love it when you can open their eyes to something: ‘I never liked reading and then this year I found something I loved and I love reading now. I used to hate math but the way you teach it, I like it now or I understand it’—when you can help somebody understand something and then maybe find a love of learning they didn’t have before.”