CHAPEL HILL (August 31, 2023) – If the killing of a professor by one of his students Monday at UNC-Chapel Hill tells us nothing else, it tells us how treacherous teaching has become in this country.
We still don’t know the shooter’s motives. We still don’t fully know whether the shooter intended to kill more people, though early indications are that it was a shooting targeted at an individual. We still don’t know what weapon he used or how he got it.
But our hearts go out to the family – particularly the two young children – of Dr. Zijie Yan.
Yan was the Associate Professor of Applied Physical Sciences who was killed in the shooting1 that locked down campus at UNC-Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for three hours Monday.2
The events were traumatic for thousands of bewildered students, faculty and staff who huddled for hours in locked classrooms, dorm rooms, closets and basements.
The front page of The Daily Tar Heel told the story Wednesday, using nothing but dozens of the texts sent by frantic students.3
MAKE NO MISTAKE, teaching has become an ever-more stressful profession in K-12 schools, higher education and even pre-schools.4
We simply don’t show teachers the respect they deserve – even though teaching is the profession that creates all others.
It starts with low pay, particularly for K-12 and community-college instructors.
In recent years, politicians have also politicized the classroom over the ways race and gender issues are addressed.
They’ve underfunded public schools, then criticized them for their performance. And defying the rule of law, they’ve bluntly refused in North Carolina to abide by repeated court orders to adequately fund our public schools.5
At the same time, they move to step up state subsidies – vouchers – for private schools with little or no accountability.6
It’s no wonder our public universities have seen a 43% decline in education majors since 2010.7
Not many years ago, a poor report card could mean a scolding (or worse) for a student. These days, it seems, the parent of a poorly performing student or the student himself is as likely to confront the teacher.
How many of us grew up practicing active-shooter drills in school? Sadly, such drills have become somewhat commonplace these days.
“We are the Sandy Hook generation,” wrote Georgia Roda-Moorhead, a young columnist for The Daily Tar Heel who started writing her piece during lockdown in the darkened basement of Granville Towers West.8
The low pay for teachers might just as well be called hazardous-duty pay – except that hazardous-duty pay is generally extra.
So as you try to make sense of the senseless in Chapel Hill this week, please hug a teacher. Tell them you love them. And tell them you appreciate what they do.
1 https://www.wral.com/story/unc-shooting-victim-faculty-academic-adviser/21023373/; https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article278727509.html.
3 https://s3.amazonaws.com/snwceomedia/dth/a05ac798-5a0a-468c-b74d-4db0a2a8b559.original.pdf; https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article278721339.html; https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2023/08/opinion-grief-letter-youre-not-alone.
5 https://www.higheredworks.org/2021/11/leandro-a-quarter-century-of-bickering/; https://www.wral.com/story/judge-nc-s-unfunded-education-mandates-total-677-8m/20819047/.
6 https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article277886823.html; https://www.higheredworks.org/2023/05/vouchers-the-privatization-of-nc-public-schools/.