The Gospel According to Jerry

Commentary by Jerry Sternberg Image courtesy of the author

Where the hell are all these “bad” teachers that our governor and Republican legislators want to purge from our city and county schools? Are we talking about those naive and dedicated young people who with great effort, often working while in college, incurred backbreaking student loan debt in order to get a teaching degree and then still had to get state certification?

Are we talking about those idealistic souls who finally got their first teaching job in Asheville, Buncombe or elsewhere in N.C. at the munificent starting pay of $30,800? (Factor in all the overtime, special events monitoring and continuing education courses, and it probably works out to less than $10 per hour.)

Of course, if those educators can stand the hard work and endure the daily heartbreak of watching young people attempt to compete against ignorance, poverty, racism, and parental and public apathy for 30 years, they might wind up earning a whopping $48,000 while battling inflation and trying to raise a family.

Are these the same frustrated folks who’ve seen their teacher assistants taken away despite increasing class sizes, further impeding their efforts to address our education deficit?

Are these the same people who must work with a shortage of textbooks and other educational materials, often paying for copier paper and other supplies out of their own pockets?

Are they among those who are upset that their health care plan has been watered down and their pension plan may be eroding?

I attended the Asheville City Schools for 12 years, and I can’t remember encountering any “bad” teachers. I do remember some I didn’t particularly like, but that was because they strenuously enforced high educational and behavioral standards that weren’t always acceptable to a young miscreant like me.

Look around. I’ll bet almost everyone who reads this knows someone who’s a teacher in the public schools. Do you know any “bad” teachers? How many of them are there?

In trying to get control of this epidemic of “bad” teachers, however, the governor and Legislature have eliminated tenure and instructed all school districts to designate 25 percent of their staff as “good” teachers who’ll get a four-year contract. The remaining 75 percent, relegated to the “bad teacher” heap, will have to reapply for a job annually. Meanwhile, it’s left up to each school district to determine how it will make those decisions — and you can be sure that in some cases the criteria will be subjective and politically loaded.

Most educators are liberal-leaning folks, and quite often, they’re activists. The state’s new approach will definitely teach these apostates a thing or two, because if someone is outspoken, disagrees with their superiors’ strict doctrinaire policy or refuses to hew to the conservative line (including religious dogma), they might find themselves out of a job.

Beyond these issues is the large herd of elephants that’s quietly entering the room.

The first one is the voucher elephant, touted as giving poor children access to a private school. The truth is that those kids’ families can’t afford to pay the difference between the actual tuition and what the state pays — and the rich families get a subsidy.

Vouchers also use taxpayers’ money to subsidize religious schools — a clear violation of separation of church and state. And since there can be no discrimination, are we prepared to subsidize madrassahs that teach the Koran and maybe sharia law?

The charter elephant, meanwhile, is in charge of an unregulated system that, in time, could so water down the public school system that it will have to close — at which point an even sneakier elephant will take over (see below). In the meantime, the charter elephant helps keep little black and white elephants from attending school together.

The sneakiest little elephant is named Private Tize. If this one has his way, he’ll pull out all the poles supporting the public education tent. After that, we’ll turn to the private sector to provide FOR PROFIT schools that will doubtless enjoy the same great success we’ve seen in privatizing prisons and those diploma mills that are defrauding our veterans out of their GI Bill money.

I’m sure our governor and many conservative state legislators benefited from the education they received in the North Carolina public schools, and I’ll bet that many of them had beloved teachers who took a special interest in them during a difficult time and helped propel them to positions of leadership. So I ask these leaders to pick up the phone now, call those teachers and ask, “How are we in the N.C. Legislature doing in helping improve the quality of public education?”

I’m afraid the answer will be the same as it was when you did something wrong in school: “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

— Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, can be reached at


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.