To hear their own words, Moore County’s teacher corps is suffering, though it’s arguable if their stress level is that much greater than many of us these days.
Doing more with fewer co-workers. Working under makeshift conditions warranted by COVID. Getting little appreciation or positive feedback from customers. Putting up with outright hostility and disdain from their board of directors. Being held to standards that once were audacious, but because of everything else are now daunting and distant.
Who among us isn’t experiencing one, some or all of these things? Some employers have been quick to acknowledge as much, offering extra pay, time off, “fun days” at the office and little gestures to keep employees they know they’ll have great difficulty replacing.
Until last Monday night, our teachers had been shown none of that support, and it finally spilled out. Across social media and through surrogates reading their words in school board meetings, our teachers are voicing their stress.
“I am exhausted and numb when I get home every evening this year, as are my co-workers,” school media specialist Deanna Drummond told the Board of Education Monday night, reading one anonymous teacher’s comments. “There is no time for reflection or processing; you just keep trying to give everything you can so our kids are OK.
“A mental health day or bonus would at least say someone recognizes everyone’s effort this year.”
Better late than never, relief has come.
Late to the Game
The board Monday night approved a new bonus structure for all employees. Additionally, they tweaked the spring semester — staff acknowledged the original was purposefully “aggressive” to address COVID-induced student learning loss — to add a few extra non-instructional hours to the calendar.
The bonus amounts to $1,000 for teachers and other licensed employees and $1,500 for full-time supporting staff which supplement state bonuses. The calendar changes amend two full days into half days and change one mandatory non-instructional work day into an optional one. So that’s one full day and two half days for teachers to plan, work with colleagues or chill out.
Hold your pats on the back for the school board, though. They really had no choice after learning that virtually every other school district around them had already done the same thing, and earlier. Some of those districts provided larger bonuses, and the calendar adjustments were more teacher friendly. Some districts — granted, pretty last minute — gave teachers off on the Friday after Veterans Day or extended Thanksgiving break, leaving parents scrambling to make hasty child care decisions.
The bonuses don’t come without a trade-off. The $2 million cost will come from one-time federal COVID relief funds, certainly an acceptable use. But that money had already been budgeted to make upgrades at three other schools, including improving the ventilation system at Pinckney Community Learning Center and upgrading PE locker rooms at Pinecrest High. They weren’t high priority projects, but the bonus means they may get put off.
Nevertheless, that passed on a 6-1 vote. The calendar change was split by the usual 4-3 division, with Philip Holmes, Robert Levy and David Hensley feeling less charitable.
“I’m opposed to doing this at the last minute,” Hensley said. “This has a ripple effect in the lives of 8,000, plus or minus, families and numerous businesses throughout the county.”
Let’s put this in proper context. It’s not last minute — it’s a three-hour change to one day in February and one in March.
The lesson here is that if you’re going to give, do so graciously, not grudgingly. Our public school workers are dealing with many of the same pressures and frustrations as many of us, yet they don’t have the same pressure release valves many of us have. The bonuses aren’t big and the downtime isn’t abundant, but it hopefully lets our school employees know Moore County is saying, “Thank you for your service.”