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This week in disappointment: New education laws prompt teacher to leave North Carolina



The 2013 legislative session is over, and without the daily travesty to cover, This Week in Disappointment turns its attention to the on-the-ground impacts of the laws enacted over the past seven months.

In education, lawmakers march toward privatizing schools: ending salary increases for many teachers with a master's degree; no longer requiring charter schools to hire licensed teachers; allowing students to use vouchers—taxpayer money—to attend private schools, including religious ones, while draining $90 million from public schools statewide.

Alex Wilkins teaches high school civics, world history and economics, most recently as a substitute teacher in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. He earned his master's degree from UNC in 2008. He is now leaving the state to find a teaching job in Washington, D.C.

INDY Week: Why are you leaving North Carolina?

Alex Wilkins: It's been an unstable environment. That's the story for any teacher, as the district adjusts for growth and decides how many sections and teachers it needs to have.

The pay differential is a huge deal. For me, there would be no difference in pay between a master's and a bachelor's degree. [Lawmakers] are saying we want you to saddle yourself with debt, stick with it, and say you're noble for doing it.

So I started broadening my search. This is a good chance to get out of here and go where I would have a chance to make more. People in my situation—single, no kids, no deep roots to North Carolina—are looking to get out of the state. Some teachers can't or don't want to leave; they're not going to give up. But a fair share of them told me to get out of here while I can.

What do you think was on the minds of legislators?

Education is a very difficult thing. I've had friends who've taught at charter schools and had great experiences there, especially in rural areas where kids needed a different environment.

But the biggest problem the legislature did was to try everything at once: charter schools, vouchers, getting rid of tenure. They're throwing a grenade into something that's remarkably stable.

How do these policy decisions trickle down to the kids in the classroom?

The way it trickles down is in what the focus becomes. Testing is so inconsistent year to year. The first year, there were state-mandated tests; then there were no state tests. Then in the third year, there was a different test but the state didn't make it clear about the format and content—what needed to be emphasized—until very late in the school year. The teachers want the kids to do well on the tests, but we can't prepare a kid unless we know what will be tested. That's been very frustrating. You need to teach kids how to prepare for a challenge, and you're having to spend all this time getting them ready for something you can't explain.

How about the teachers personally?

You're resigned to deal with it. Once teachers get in the classroom, they get back into the swing of things. Being in the classroom is a relief.

The difficult part is outside of the classroom, at meetings with administrators or the school board to hear what the state is doing.

Teachers will have to deal with whatever the state is passing down. Teenagers and teachers are the same: They adapt.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Reality bites."

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