Penned with Love
Kids write letters of support for their teachers
(pictured above: Whitaker students (from left): Carolina Bumgarner, Finn Kehoe, Will Bumgarner and Thomas Smith were among those who penned letters in support of their teachers.)
Students at Whitaker Elementary are taking a unique approach to expressing their admiration for their teachers.
In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, which was observed at Whitaker March 10-14, the school’s PTA organized a letter writing campaign expressing their appreciation and support of their teachers to Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislators.
“We just thought this was a great way to show the teachers how much we appreciate what they do and how much we value them,” explained PTA Advocacy Chair Elizabeth Kehoe. “…It’s sort of a tangible way to show them that we care and we want to put pen to paper and let people know how much we value them and really just to let legislators know, too, how important our teachers are to us.”
By the time of the campaign’s culmination celebration at Brynn’s Yogurt on March 12, nearly 100 students had lent their support to the effort by volunteering to write letters. Kehoe, a mother of two, said a lot is being asked of teachers these days. The former attorney said she is hopeful that students who participate in the project will learn the value and importance of civic responsibility.
“I think it’s been great and I think people are excited,” she said of the campaign. “…It’s also a good way for kids to learn about standing up for things and how the government works, and that you can communicate with people in power.”
Kehoe’s older son, Finn, a first-grader at Whitaker, penned a letter about his teacher, Jessica Raye.
“My favorite teacher is Mrs. Raye,” the six year-old wrote. “She makes learning fun. We play games sometimes.”
At the urging of the N.C. Parent-Teacher Association, Whitaker’s PTA added the advocacy chair position that Kehoe holds. The chair’s job is to develop and organize meetings, programs and activities aimed at improving communications and relationships between school staff and families and educating families about issues that impact their children’s health and education, according to the N.C. PTA.
Whitaker PTA President Leah Crowley said she felt the letter writing campaign was an excellent way to introduce the organization’s newest function.
“It just seemed like a perfect fit for our school, for what the kids are capable of,” said Crowley, a homemaker and mother of four. “It was a great way for us to get across what we wanted to get across, which is we want the State of North Carolina to recognize how important our teachers are to us.”
Although McCrory and the GOP have borne the brunt of the criticism over cuts to public education funding, Crowley says the issues she sees – such as low teacher salary – date back to far before the current governor’s tenure. Although some have politicized the issue, Crowley says the campaign was meant as a civics lesson for Whitaker students, not a political statement.
“It really should be a bipartisan issue,” the Fredericksburg, Va. native declared. “All of us have children, whether we’re Republicans, Democrats or Independents.”
The state is doing the right thing by increasing the starting salaries for incoming teachers, Crowley said, but she is hopeful that that olive branch will also be extended to educators who have stood the test of time in the field.
“We’re thrilled about the new initiative that Gov. McCrory just put forward with respect to raising salaries for teachers that are new, but we want to see all teachers rewarded,” she remarked. “…A lot of times, what people earn is tied to what they think they’re worth, and we think it’s important that our teachers know they’re worth a lot.”
Former educator Cecelia McPhail brought her two daughters, Grace, a kindergartner at Whitaker, and Miriam, 3, out to take part in the culminating celebration at Brynn’s last week.
“I think the teachers will love them,” she said of the letters, which will be photocopied and kept in a binder for teachers to read and enjoy. “I think that they will love knowing that parents are impressing upon their children that their teachers are valuable and should be respected.”
McPhail, who taught high school for five years, said she left the profession after the birth of her younger child because it wasn’t “financially feasible” for her to continue, as the cost of daycare would have completely absorbed the salary she was able to bring home. Although she enjoyed the work, if teacher salaries don’t improve, she likely won’t return to the classroom, McPhail said.
Ann Petitjean, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, praised the campaign, which she sees as an innovative approach to celebrating teachers.
“It’s a statement that teachers matter,” Petitjean declared. “I think it’s great to have the people that we impact the most appreciate us. I think it’s a great idea.”
Petitjean says she believes McCrory and the General Assembly may tread more lightly on making changes to education because it is an election year, but she believes the battle to retain and increase investments in the public education system is far from over.
“The Legislature is not finished with school reform,” she stated. “We’re ready to stand up for our public schools. We’re ready for our parents to stand with us, and I think that that is really starting to happen. The coalition building is really so exciting.”