Teacher of the Year tells Perdue about 'gut-wrenching' layoff

Posted November 19, 2009

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— Granville County teacher Bill Massey said he achieved the most meaningful accomplishment of his career this past June when Northern Granville Middle School named him "Teacher of the Year."

But his jubilation was soon followed by "gut-wrenching" disappointment. On Aug. 3, Principal Daniel Callaghan came to Massey with the bad news – the newly crowned "Teacher of the Year" was getting laid off.

Honored teacher lost job to recession Honored teacher lost job to recession

Statewide budget cuts to education forced Callaghan to let go of four teachers. Massey's content area – art education – was considered non-essential, so he was among those laid off, according to Callaghan. Granville County lost a total of 12 teachers.  

"I'll be very honest with you. I get physically sick over this," Callaghan said. "This was a very difficult year."

Massey said he was disheartened and decided to do what he does best – write letters. On Sept. 17, he reached out to Gov. Bev Perdue in an emotional one-page letter.

"I watched the evening news tonight as you and Erskine Bowles [University of North Carolina System president] and a bevy of other education gurus bemoaned the state of education in North Carolina. I watched with pain in my heart," he wrote.

"Mr. Bowles' contention that 'North Carolina has to hire more and better teachers' was a slap in my face. I was a teacher. I was a good teacher. And I lost my job anyway," the letter continued. "I voted for you as 'the education governor,' and lost my job as an educator that same year."

Massey continued sending letters to education leaders in the hopes that he could save his beloved job. Eventually, he received a response from his principal and from the governor, but neither reaction was what he expected.

'Always compensated, never gratified'

Before Massey's job loss, he was hailed as an exceptional teacher who went to great lengths to energize and inspire his art students. It was his peers who voted him "Teacher of the Year," which he said came as a complete shock.

"(My co-workers) really do know that I'm not the best teacher in the building yet, but I want to be," he said.

At age 66, Massey had only been teaching five years when he was laid off. Before becoming a teacher, he spent 30 years in the advertising business and worked in New York, Washington, Boston, Denver and Raleigh, but he didn't feel fulfilled.

"I was always compensated but never really gratified," he said.

That feeling is what inspired him to enter the world of teaching. Massey said he happily took the job at Northern Granville Middle even though he lives in Raleigh and had to make a nearly one-hour commute each way.

He said he passed the time by thinking of new ways to engage his students. One of his ideas involved writing letters to colleges and universities.

He would ask each to send him a school T-shirt so he could wear it to class and inspire his students to attend college someday. Many of the schools obliged, and Massey began every class with a quick lesson about the school shirt he was wearing that day.

Northern Granville's front office is another example of Massey's impact. The room is decorated with autographed photos and letters from First Lady Michelle Obama and comedian Bill Cosby – all thanks to Massey's art class, which wrote letters.

In his last teacher evaluation on May 19, which Massey provided to WRAL, he received "above standard" marks – the highest possible score – in every category.

"Keep up the good work!" the principal wrote in the report.

The governor responds; Massey finds a new role

On Oct. 29, more than a month after he wrote to her, the governor responded to Massey's letter. She thanked him for his service and congratulated him on his "Teacher of the Year" award. However, one part rubbed Massey the wrong way, he said.

In her letter, Perdue explained that the state is facing an economic crisis. She then talked about the budget cuts, which cost Massey his job.

"Throughout the budget negotiations, I fought for two basic principles: protecting our classrooms and core services, and ensuring that working families were not saddled with an across-the-board income tax increase," she wrote. "The final budget was improved as a result of those efforts but still short in several areas, including cuts to local school districts and to mental health services. That is why when I signed the budget, I did so with reservation."

Massey said he was disappointed to read that Perdue signed the budget even though she had reservations.

"Don't sign it!" Massey said. "There's gotta be a better way."

Massey eventually found his own way around the budget cuts and asked his former principal at Northern Granville to take him back – this time as an assistant teacher at a much lower salary. If that didn't work, Massey said he was prepared to work for free.

Callaghan ultimately decided to rehire him as an assistant teacher, which pays him 40 percent of the salary he was making last year. Massey said he is not bitter; he is just grateful to be back at the school with the students he loves.

"As this stage in my life, it's not the paycheck I get. It's the feeling I get," he said.


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  • prn13norm Nov 20, 2009

    Thank Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Murtha, Frank, Dodd, Shumer, Rangle and Hagan. Their socialist agenda is killing our economy!

  • ifcdirector Nov 20, 2009

    If Bev Perdue ran for reelection tomorrow this guy, and all the other teachers who suffer from low pay and poor job security after 150 years of democrat false promises and deception, would sell their very souls to go out and campaign for her and vote for her even if she came over and personally burned their homes to the ground. What's the definition of insanity again?

  • 1carpe Nov 20, 2009

    I have asked this many times and have not been able to get or find the answer: What is the percentage of teachers laid off versus administrators? If the percentage of administrators laid off is two to three times higher than that of teachers, the lay off’s May, and I emphasize May, have been financially productive. If the ratio of teachers was higher than the ration of administrators, to my feeble mind, that would be proof positive that Bev and the School Boards truly do not care about education. They only care about the bloated bureaucracy that runs it.

  • greentara Nov 20, 2009

    Gosh, how sad. What is awful is I know some teachers and all they do is complain about their job and whine about the kids they teach. Here is a guy who has a passion for his job and they treat him like dirt. Typical of public education.

  • MakoII Nov 20, 2009

    People who, like our governor, seek upper education and get a PhD in Education actually HATE teaching.

    And teachers are "below" them, so they are seen as a lower class.

    This is the case for most Principals. You'd have to drain a principle's BLOOD to teach in a class. That's why then went on to getting more education. So they could make more money and leave all that behind.

    IF instead they required Principals or ANYONE to first get 10 years teaching under their belt before giving them a doctorate in Education, you'd ONLY see good principals, etc who got PhD's in that field.

    It's like allowing someone to become a judge who was NEVER a practicing lawyer.

    Or a Surgeon who NEVER drew blood.

    Just makes no sense.

  • djcgriffin Nov 20, 2009

    I feel bad for him. It sounds like he has a passion for what he is teaching, and we need more like him.

  • MakoII Nov 20, 2009

    Beijing Bev hit the nail on the head there.

    Also, if you don't let kids draw pictures, how do you find your next Columbine dude?

  • MakoII Nov 20, 2009

    Art's might not be essential to NC, but our Forefathers saw fit to include SUPPORTING it as a DUTY for Congress in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

  • gratefultoGOD Nov 20, 2009

    Good for you Bill.. doing what God put you here for.. will not Let Bev stop you. CHILDREN do not have enought POSITIVE impact today... especially men in their lives that CARE! BEV PERDUE>> WILL NOT ..repeat NOT be a 2nd term Governor,, Mark MY word. I do not Know of any past, present or future teacher that will vote for her again! She is full or herself.. and also.. full of " you know what!"

  • NCTravellinman Nov 20, 2009

    Welcome to the real world, Mr. Massey.

    Employees in the private sector have dealt with this type of silliness for years.