Angie Scioli is an award-winning veteran high school social studies teacher and education activist at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, N.C. She was the subject of the well-received 2017 documentary, “Teacher of the Year,” an effort to show the authentic life of an educator — not the Hollywood version. It following her through the 2013-2014 school year as an educator and also in her roles as a mother, wife, protester and education advocate. (See trailer below)
Earlier in her life, Scioli thought she would become a lawyer, but she received a Teaching Fellows Scholarship in 1989 and decided to accept it and teach for the four years that were required for the grant. Then something happened that she hadn’t expected.
As she wrote on the website of the Red4EdNC advocacy organization she founded: “I fell in love with teaching. Deeply.” But things began to change, and legislators made laws she thought were harmful to public education:
Cuts to the pre-K program, cuts to teacher assistants, elimination of the Teaching Fellows program, another year without a raise, cuts to supplies, textbooks . . . the more I learned, the sicker I became. And then, I wept. And finally, an anger began to grow inside of me. I felt foolish. What kind of idiot works tirelessly for twenty years, stressing out each day to make every lesson the best it can be, worrying about scores of kids, when what I do is not valued by the people in power?
She stopped giving her all — for two days:
I thought about my students who need the tutoring, who need the recommendation letters. I thought about my principal, and I felt bad that I would disappoint him. I really like him. And I felt sad for me. I felt like the real me was dying, that a lifeless zombie was taking my place. And I had sworn I would never be that zombie teacher.
Then it occurred to me — like a flash! I will become a professional protester. I will teach as I always have, with all the same passion, embracing all the stress, despite a hostile political climate that makes that act seem irrational! I will stand in the truth that high quality public education remains the key to a vibrant democracy and an opportunity society. And that cannot be achieved without great teachers. And I REFUSE to be anything other than a great teacher. That shift felt radical, and very right, and suddenly, I felt very empowered.
She founded Red4edNC.com to fight legislation that hurts public schools and to advocate on behalf of teachers.
Scioli recently read a letter to the editor in the April 7, 2018, edition of the News and Observer that said teachers have easy jobs:
I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person in America who feels like this, but I’m tired of hearing about teachers. If teachers want to be paid for a full-time job then they should have to work one.
The letter was published in the paper at a time when teachers in several states have been or are striking for better pay, working conditions and education funding.
Scioli stopped grading tests and wrote a response on her Facebook page. The post went viral, and
. Here is an updated version of her response (with permission from Scioli and the News and Observer).
NOTE: The words in boldface type in Scioli’s piece below are direct quotes from the original letter to the News and Observer.
By Angie Scioli
Anytime educators speak up (we see you teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona!), we inevitably hear criticisms in public forums. I took a breather from grading tests over spring break to respond to one letter to the editor in the local paper. He emphatically stated he was tired of teachers complaining that “$277 per day with full benefits working part-time is still not enough [for educators]. It is enough.”
As a 25-year veteran in this “part-time” career, I realized the letter writer had some gaps in his knowledge. Please allow me as a North Carolina educator to provide some insight:
“Teachers only work 180 days a year . . . regular businesses require employees to work 254 days yearly. Their pay is fair for practically part time work.”
I did an audit of this year, and I actually will go to my school and work 194 days this year. On the days I work, I rise at 3 a.m. and work until 5 a.m., grading, lesson planning and answering emails. Then I go to work at 6:30 a.m. I teach actively for 5 hours of that time, do hall duty and paperwork, contact parents, and leave at about 4:30 pm. That’s a 12-hour day. Every day. I also work at least two hours on weekends.
So, 194 X 12= 2278 hours + 78 weekend hours = 2356 hours. If you divide that by nine (let’s say business employees work 9 hour days if you include those emails after hours), you get 261 days of work.
So, I worked 261 days last year. I just did it in 194 days. Now you know why teachers are so exhausted.
“Teachers get all these days off: Fall Break, Christmas, Spring Break, Holidays and Summers Off”
What’s Fall break? I do not get paid in summer, and my ten vacation days are scheduled for me by the state. No Disney World during September for me, no sir.
“And then there’s their benefits — no major company provides pensions anymore.”
Did you know I pay $439 a month to my pension? And I’ve been paying in for 25 years so far? Not exactly a free benefit.
“The high school teachers are no more than proctors supervising the students taking online computer courses.”
My students do look at curated, digital-based exhibits in teams on any given day in my room. The catch is that I have done all the creation of the exhibits and the essential questions, and I do all the grading of their responses. I also lead daily discussions of the day’s news, create scaffolded unit vocabulary activities, lead test reviews at night on Periscope, maintain my own website and YouTube channel with 57 lectures on it, write innumerable college recommendation letters, and a myriad of other tasks I can’t mention and still make the word count cutoff for this piece.
“The lottery has pumped billions into the schools. . . “
In North Carolina, only 30 percent of lottery funds actually go to the schools. In 2016-17, the lottery produced $98 million for all 115 school districts. That’s far from billions. According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction website: “Even if the NC Education lottery gave 100 percent of its revenue to schools, that would only cover about 19 percent of the state’s total budget for K-12 public schools.”
What are the other flawed assumptions people bring to education policy conversations, and how can we inject teacher voice into the narrative more often to help make more informed voters and policy? Comment with your ideas below.