FRESH EYES is TCB’s “Letter to the Editor” section where members of the community can submit opinion pieces. To submit your piece, send an email to [email protected]
Katie Hall is a former educator in Guilford County Schools. From 2021-22, she taught English 10 and Speech and Debate at Northern High School. In December 2022, she left the school system after burning out of the industry. This is her personal commentary on the local school system.
On Thursday, March 16, Gov. Roy Cooper will visit Northern Guilford High School. Until December, I was employed at Northern as an English teacher. It was my fifth year as an educator, but I decided it was my last. While there were many reasons I felt I had to leave the profession I had dreamed of my whole life, the main reason was a lack of support from my administration.
While all administrators face an arduous amount of challenges, supported teachers support students. When we as educators are asked to focus on the big picture, we need support from our administrators and our community to be successful.
This school year was the hardest school year I’ve ever been a part of, not just because of my students’ behavior, but because of the incredible lack of care from admin and their unwillingness to support their teachers. I watched my friends and colleagues defend our students’ intellectual freedom and be personally and professionally insulted in public by students’ parents. Resource and book challenges have started to feel like the norm instead of the exception. I saw my colleague frightened when a displeased parent somehow made his way into the building and all the way to her classroom without an escort. I was yelled at by a parent in front of my administrator. The administrator sat back and did nothing, said nothing.
Student behavior was also an issue. Any good educator will tell you that any behavior from a student is communication, not a personal attack. I did not take my students’ behavior personally, but the communication, or lack thereof, from my administration, felt personal. When I asked for an exit interview, I received no response. When there were physical or verbal assaults, there was no follow up with staff or students. The lack of response to any and all emails or write-ups — some write-ups sitting in our system for more than 30 days before being resolved — coupled with leadership’s inability or unwillingness to speak up for their teachers in front of a few churlish parents made their communication loud and clear: I did not matter. My colleagues did not matter. My students did not matter. So I left. And now the governor is visiting the school. Why?
Northern has had a lot of issues this year: fights, drug use and overdoses, and a few disgruntled, entitled parents whose loud voices seem to have drowned out logic. The building itself has had lots of troubles too. The toilets in all bathrooms have stopped flushing at least three times. Students and staff lacked access to clean water for hours. The HVAC system has had something wrong with it for years, causing some classrooms to be upwards of 80 degrees for weeks at a time. Exterior doors have been broken for weeks at a time, and some are still broken. The new scanners malfunctioned within the first months of school. Classrooms go uncleaned for
up to a month. The media center tables and chairs have been wobbly and broken for over a year but thankfully were repaired by an incredibly generous volunteer a few weeks ago. These issues are not specific to Northern, rather, they span schools and classrooms throughout the state and country.
Today, however, there has been an unusual flurry of activity around Northern: Classrooms have been cleaned, media-center walls painted, furniture moved; still students’ learning will be put on hold Thursday.
Northern’s motto, emblazoned on its crest and around the school, is “Wisdom, Hope, and Integrity.” With integrity defined as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty,” it is clear that the incredible neglect of teachers’ and students’ well-being and safety doesn’t seem to fit into this definition of integrity. I find it hypocritical that educators are always told to put student needs first when GCS seems to be doing the opposite here. To look good for the governor, GCS is hiding the rough patches for a photo op and ignoring the long-term needs of students and teachers. But at least the media center has a fresh coat of paint.
Instead, as the governor makes his rounds at Northern on Thursday, here’s what I want him to keep in mind. While educators everywhere would appreciate a raise or more funding, the support must start from the ground up. Communities need to support their educators, their administrators, their school board. The school board needs to support its administrators, its educators, its students. The educators need to support their students, their administration, and their community. Supported teachers support students. Who wouldn’t want that?
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