Congratulations to 2013-14 NHCS Teacher of the Year and Regional Teacher of the Year – Melissa Gillespie, a Social Studies Teacher at Laney High School. Mrs. Gillespie was recognized at the North Carolina 2014-15 Teacher of the Year Banquet on Thursday, April 3rd. Though a fellow Regional Teacher of the Year was awarded the State honor, NHCS is very proud of Mrs. Gillespie – her outstanding accomplishments, her commitment to education and her passion for teaching. Mrs. Gillespie presented the following speech during NHCS’ 3rd Annual Legislative Breakfast on February 18th. Congratulations, Mrs. Gillespie on being a leader in education!
An educator once told me during my internship that “policy makers only want teachers to be seen and not heard.” It took me some time to understand the importance of such a statement and I certainly understood what that individual meant when I entered into my 10th year of teaching at the beginning of this school year. I was fortunate to have New Hanover County Schools send me to a national conference last week that focused on strategies that helped Beginning Teachers in the classroom. There were educators from all over the United States and five countries at this conference. Of course, everyone always asks “Where are you from?” When I replied “NC” the look on their faces and responses were astounding. I was consistently asked “Why would you stay and teach in a State that doesn’t value its educators, or education, for that matter?” I always replied, “Because I believe in public education, our teachers, and our students…because my district and school believe in me…and I love my job”
I do believe that the face of education is changing and that teachers have found their voice and are not afraid to speak loudly. Teachers are on the verge of a grassroots movement that has the potential of revitalizing and revolutionizing education in the state of North Carolina. Teachers are not afraid of the challenges that we face. We are determined, strong, and fighting for a cause. We are here to fight the good fight for our schools and students. And, we must always remember to place our students first.
Society expects schools to prepare students to participate in our democracy. Yet, many citizens believe that our schools are failing. Public perception about the quality and value of teachers and schools are at an all time low. Educators in North Carolina do not feel valued, but they continue to give 100% in their classrooms every single day. This is evident in our county: the academic performance of students in New Hanover County is impressive–we are above the NC state average and outperformed all of our surrounding counties. Our graduation rates have exceeded the state average for three years in a row, and last year, we boasted a graduation rate of 82%. We accomplished this in the face of adversity, while continuing to work on our craft. NHCS has a total of 400 National Board Certified Teachers.
I “grew-up” in the corridors of Laney High School, because I am surrounded by a consistent administrative team, amazing educators, dedicated parents, and inquisitive students. Laney provides an amazing environment conducive to learning.
I believe NC’s biggest problem is the quick departure of beginning teachers in our profession. This revolving door cannot be fixed through recruitment strategies alone. Beginning teachers enter the profession believing they will make a difference but leave because they realize they are expected to become testing technicians. This high turnover rate harms student achievement. In addition, the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training of new teachers drain resources that might otherwise be spent on program improvement or working conditions. This increases the workload of experienced in-service teachers because they are usually called upon to bear most of the responsibilities associated with mentoring new teachers. As a result, teachers are left with little time to develop meaningful lessons. What is the solution? It is simple: invest in teachers, provide support, and strengthen pre-service teacher programs at the University level. Thankfully, NHCS has an amazing Beginning Teacher Support Program. NHCS believes strongly that effective support to help new teachers begin their careers is in the best interest of every person connected with the schools. We believe that providing that support requires interest, caring, and other personal and professional contributions from all members of the school community. Based on the belief that quality mentors are a critical key to the success of beginning teachers, NHCS created a system that provides needed emotional, instructional and organizational support for beginning teachers and each novice teacher is assigned a qualified and well-trained mentor.
Also, NHCS is partnered with UNCW and the Watson College of Education to recognize outstanding beginning teachers. Eleven NHCS beginning teachers were nominated by their principals, and then selected by the WCE, as Beginning Teacher Promise of Leadership Award recipients. These teachers were chosen based on their commitment to teaching diverse learners, their use of technology in the classroom, and their potential for leadership. The award is designed to provide professional growth opportunities, along with additional support from WCE faculty members. This Beginning Teacher Support Program and partnership are some of the reasons NHCS’ teacher turnover rate is well below the state average.
Author Neil Postman stated, “Public education is not important because it serves the public, it is important because it creates the public.” Society expects teachers to prepare our youth to learn the skills needed to became an engaged and informed public. And my biggest fear is that students are beginning to feel the negative effects of the revolving teacher door in education and this very public discussion about the “teacher v school.”
We need to remind the policy makers that the only way to remain competitive in a global economy is to invest in our human capital and generate 21st century skills needed in the workforce. Investing in teachers is a direct way to invest in our students (the human capital of our nation). At the same time, teachers will not see true educational reform from a salary increase alone (even though we need to address teacher pay and begin a real discussion–not receive token pay raises for specific groups). We must all be willing to admit that education cuts overwhelmingly affect the well being of the student more than that of the educator. Our nation’s future economy depends on the current investments in our overall educational system. Failure to acknowledge this connection will lead to an even greater increase in our society between the haves and the have-notes. We cannot abandon the ideology that education is the great equalizer. As educators we must nurture a culture of inquiry through learning, leading, and creating. This remains the one advantage of American students–we are innovative risk takers that excel in ingenuity.
NC was once a “shining star” in education. We are now at the bottom of the education pyramid. The future of education in NC is to make sure that NC remains in the educational forefront–pre-service programs are failing to fill seats throughout NC’s University systems–and this will lead to a serious teacher shortage in our state. We need a change. We need real hope. We have a voice and nothing else to lose–this is how real change begins. Our overall outcome is the success of ALL students–parents, teachers, administrators, etc. I will continue to advocate for my students–they are the reason I show up for work everyday. I made a decision to remain in education for the long haul. I am willing to fight the good fight. But, are you?