CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Justin Ashley is spending Monday afternoon getting his classroom ready for another year; moving desks and chairs, getting together lesson plans, working to make sure he is ready for the coming school year.
"School should be fun," he said from his classroom at McAlpine Elementary School, "We want them (students) excited to come here on Mondays."
Ashley is also the North Carolina History Teacher and Social Studies Teacher of the Year, and he is also concerned about the state's recent budget and how it will affect classrooms like his. So he wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House, Tom Tillis, but when that letter went unanswered, he decided to forward his open letter to the Governor:
I wanted to first thank you for your service to our state. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to make so many decisions that impact so many people.
I'm sure that being a politician can be a lot like playing the part of Batman: people are always questioning whether you are a hero or a villain when all you really want is to protect Gotham City. I appreciate the sacrifices you have made for the Tar Heel state.
Secondly, I would like to tell you my story:
Choosing a career path is frightening, especially when you're 17. I weighed my options between Burger King manager and the armed forces. My options were few and far between, as I was residing in a low-income, single parent home at the time.
My career perspective widened when my school counselor informed me of a possible scholarship opportunity. We decided to give it a shot. I wrote an essay, filled out some paperwork, and participated in a scholarship interview at UNC Charlotte.
A few weeks later, I ripped the letter open from my mailbox:
"Congratulations. You have been awarded a full scholarship to a North Carolina University."
I will never forget reading those words with water-filled eyes. For the first time in my life, I felt fully empowered to overcome mediocrity.
I opened that letter ten years ago. In that defining moment, I accepted the full scholarship as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow and graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2007.
Currently, I teach 4th grade in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. I have been a father to boys and girls at school who don't have them at home. I have helped raise test scores and created a fun learning environment for kids. I love my job.
In February, I was even fortunate enough to walk across a stage in Greensboro and accept the award for the North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year.
And even though my salary would be higher as a Burger King manager, I'm grateful for the door that was opened for me, for the founders of the scholarship program, for the General Assembly (years ago) that allocated funding for my scholarship, and for the taxpayers who provided the investment in the first place. I've been able to change lives because these people changed mine. And I'm just one of the thousands of stories, stories that represent better teaching and better learning because of our great state's dedication to our public education system.
A few weeks ago, our state legislators passed a budget that eradicated the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship. They also terminated teacher tenure and additional pay for teachers with master degrees, along with a host of other public education cutbacks that total approximately 500 million dollars.
With these sweeping changes, I can't help but wonder:
How many state teachers of the year did our current General Assembly just eliminate from the classroom?
How many doors were just shut in the face of so many talented teacher candidates?
My heartfelt message to our current General Assembly and Governor:
As you create bills and budgets involving education, please don't marinate on the massive numbers of educators and students. Instead, visualize your favorite teacher as a child, the one who spoke words of vision and hope into you. The one who invested her time, energy, and love into your life so that you could become the leader you have grown to be. Do you see her? Now, use your resources to enable teachers just like her to do for others what she did for you.
Great teaching is the golden ticket for our schools. Teachers are the solution. Help us help our kids. Hold on to great teachers right now before it's too late. Create opportunities and incentives that attract new teachers for the future. You have the keys to the door.
And closed doors can quickly be reopened... (Read more here.)
Ashley said that he would love for Governor McCrory to spend a day in his classroom teaching.
"...to see what it’s like to be a teacher." Ashley expressed, “I'd like for him to reflect on the experience with me and several others."
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, (R) NC 104 District, released the following statement to NBC Charlotte on Monday:
Republican state legislators worked to pass a budget that spends more money on education then has ever been spent on education in North Carolina. Reforms passed by the Republicans include creating new opportunities for scholarships for low income students, encouraging teacher accountability and performance and rewarding high-performing teachers. In addition, during the time Republicans have been tasked with producing results in education NC has achieved the two highest graduation rates in our state's history and has continued to hire more teachers. Scare tactics to the contrary won't change the truth.