'They're not going to stop:' Durham teachers lead NC education reform movement

Posted May 16, 2018 9:13 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:14 a.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Teachers Rally is an all-day event. Educators, counselors, family and friends marched down Fayetteville Street Wednesday morning and are planning to rally this afternoon for better pay, more resources for students and more in front of their lawmakers.

In Durham, WRAL is following a group of teachers who dedicated their entire day to raising awareness for this cause. Bull city educators were the driving force behind the historic rally.

By the hundreds, Durham teachers requested the day off. The Durham Board of Education was the first to vote to close school.

At 8 a.m., teachers were loading buses at Hillside High School to head to Raleigh to advocate for better school conditions and professional pay.

Their days started earlier than that, though, as teachers gathered at each others' homes to finish making signs and carpool to the schools where buses were waiting for them. Three buses were expected to carry teachers to downtown Raleigh, but a fourth bus was added at the last minute to accommodate teacher interest. An online sign-up sheet guaranteed that teachers would have a spot on the buses.

By 8:45 a.m., buses of Durham teachers were headed for downtown Raleigh, with teachers fueled up on coffee and passion for the cause.

Most of the educators are dressed in red for "ed" and are proudly sporting homemade, creative signs. Some are funny, some emotional. "I see red people," one sign read. Another focused on students, reading, "They are worth it."

"We know that the leaders have a lot of work and with being a leader comes some added responsibility, and Durham is ready to take that responsibility," Durham teacher Mika Twietmeyer said.

A big concern for teachers is spending their own money on school supplies, usually hundreds of dollars a year.

"I'm 40 years old and my mom still buys me school supplies," a sign read.

"I'm really excited to become a teacher but I'm also really concerned that North Carolina is becoming a state that is much, much harder for teachers to teach in and for students to learn in," said a recent education graduate along for the ride. "I'm really fired up to support the NCAE and be here today."

"I'm here for my students," added a one-year teacher. "It's not just about the teachers' salaries or wanting full funding for our educations -- there are plenty of kids who aren't in the best learning environment."

By 10 a.m., teachers had arrived in downtown Raleigh and were ready to begin their trek from the NCAE to the legislative building. Parents, students and other supporters marched with them, cheering and playing music.

The teachers said it's surreal for them to be marching alongside thousands of their fellow teachers and supporters. So many Durham teachers requested May 16 off that the Durham Board of Education was the first to cancel classes.

"I'm overwhelmed with emotion right now," said Ryanne Logan, a counselor with Durham schools. "I don't know if I should cry or scream or jump or do a back flip. I'm so excited to be here."

Chimere Johnson, a Durham teacher, also shared her thoughts.

"Today is for the policy makers to see that, as teachers, we work hard, and we shape the outcome of a lot of these citizens today. In education, we are partially responsible for where they're going to end up."

More than three dozen school districts followed Durham's lead, closing schools to march downtown and "rally for respect." Some of the teachers are hoping to meet with their representatives, but several believe that the size of the crowd, which is estimated to be more than 20,000, is a success.

"I want to let my teachers know that I care," Durham first-grader Dot Barron said.

"I wish it weren't a partisan issue, but it seems to be that way," Representative Marcia Morey said. "But they're going to stop. This is going to keep going."