Larry Efird: North Carolinians step up to show support for teachers

Published 12:10 am Sunday, June 21, 2015

By Larry Efird

For the Salisbury Post 

Dear, Dear, North Carolina:

You are my home. You are my heritage. I came by my love for you naturally, I suppose. All four of my grandparents were unashamedly proud of this state in which they were born, and the state in which they raised their own children.

My very  first Tar Heel  forebears came down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania in the late 1700s  like so many others to this “land of the longleaf pine,”  where the  “weak grow strong and the strong  grow great.”  They never regretted settling in the Piedmont and becoming one with the soil and one with the culture they found here.

I, too, have always been proud of your natural beauty and diverse culture. I’m also proud of your public universities, the best in the country, and for the education you gave my three children.

But recently, I have become even prouder of your people, my Tar Heel brothers and sisters. Times of adversity tend to bring out the best in us, and I marvel at how your people have risen to the occasion to encourage teachers during these precarious days which face your public elementary and secondary schools.

Not long ago, my wife and I were in a bookshop in Hillsborough, and we began talking to the owner about education in our beloved state. We shared our love, as well as our concerns, for your children.

While in this establishment, I noticed a new release titled “Amazing Place.” It’s a book filled with stories by North Carolina authors telling how you have influenced them in their lives as writers. I wanted to buy a copy, but honestly didn’t think I should spend $20 for a paperback book. But before we left the store, the owner told me that she wanted me to have the book as a gift, as her way of saying “thank you” to a public school teacher.

Needless to say, I was humbled, and touched by her generosity and her sensitivity. She was giving a gift to someone who had been a total stranger only 30 minutes earlier.

As I thought about this encounter later, and as I read the book, I realized that we weren’t really strangers after all. We were family. We were both North Carolinians who shared a common bond and a passionate hope in the future of our state: your children.

When I came back home and went to school the following Monday, I shared this story with my students.  They interpreted it to be a real-life, “pay-it-forward” moment. They got it!

Several weeks later, my wife and I wanted to go away to celebrate our 38th anniversary and our 60th birthdays concurrently.

When I went online to check out some potential destinations, I began with Boone, and immediately found a bed and breakfast which offered a half-price discount to all full-time public school teachers. I could hardly believe my eyes!

When I read the rationale for their offering such a generous discount, I felt warmly reassured, and that even though the past decade has not been kind to teachers in our state, the people of North Carolina are stepping up themselves to show their support for public education.

When I stand in front of my kids each day, I know they aren’t aware of grown-up problems and dilemmas which confront teachers and school systems. But they know more than we realize. Like all children, they can sense when things aren’t going well at home.

For many of my students, school is the most stable place they can be. They look to me as their teacher to give them consistent, credible guidance for their lives through a blend of knowledge and wisdom. They shouldn’t have to worry that a good teacher may not come back because he or she can’t afford to stay in teaching any longer.

I love your caring heart, North Carolina, and I want to say “thank you” to all my siblings in our state family who do understand the need for good teachers and how to encourage them, so that we can continue to be a place “where the weak can grow strong” — through education.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.