“I have never met a teacher who was a great teacher who did it for the money.”
No truer words were ever spoken. Thank you Guilford County Board of Education Chairman, Alan Duncan for saying in the Greensboro News and Record editorial what most of us know and don’t say enough.
I had many great teachers. But one was extra special. Eva Williams.
The year was 1969. Bob Scott was Governor. And I was a first grader in New Hanover County at a school that has since burned and been rebuilt, Bradley Creek Elementary. Times were turbulent with the end of segregation and the challenge of school integration. In 1971, Governor Scott sent the National Guard into the city, and racial violence made national headlines.
As a little first grader, I waited with my Mom to meet my first teacher. Enter Mrs. Williams, 41, a veteran teacher from the segregated schools in downtown Wilmington. Sadly, some parents gasped and cried. My Mom, who was the same age as Mrs. Williams, did not. Mrs. Williams, a woman with a huge friendly smile, beautiful black skin and brightly colored clothes, immediately captured my attention. I was mesmerized by her voice, her clothes, her smile and her very presence.
By the end of the first week, we were absolutely in love with this woman, our teacher. She drove 16 miles a day from her home in downtown Wilmington to our school near Wrightsville Beach. She taught us the basics and so much more.
Mid-year, I became very ill. After three days, I had emergency surgery for an acute appendicitis and peritonitis. While in ICU at New Hanover County Memorial Hospital, there was young man lying in the bed beside me. He was a sixteen year old boy shot in some downtown violence by a stray bullet. One of my first visitors was Mrs. Williams, who brought her Pastor and her Church. They prayed for us and our City. We were two kids in a hospital fighting for our lives, from different parts of Wilmington, brought together.
Every day my teacher drove an additional 10 miles after school to bring me a gift and to teach me what she taught our class that day. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Williams and my Mom, I learned beyond the required. Because of Mrs. Williams, to this day, I love math. I learned the lessons of civil rights and humanity far beyond my years. This incredible teacher encouraged my classmates to write me heart-felt get well wishes each day.
They are bound in a book that I cherish. The handwriting on the three-line paper composed with the fat pencils is neat and clean because that’s how she taught us. My classmates looked out for me when I returned to school. Because of Mrs. Williams, I know public school teachers have no limits in their love of teaching and care for their students beyond the requirements of core subjects. And, I know they teach us important lessons in life.
When I left the Hospital and recovered at home, she came to my home. And, when it was time to move onto second grade, she is the person who advocated for me to Dr. Heyward Bellamy, Superintendent of the New Hanover County Schools, that despite my excessive absences for the illness, I was far beyond first grade essentials in social interactions and the basics of reading, writing and math. Dr. Bellamy listened to Mrs. Williams, and I went on to the next grade, never forgetting my special teacher who taught me to care, learn, and advocate for others.
No one reimbursed Eva Williams for those miles she drove. No one reimbursed Eva Williams for the extra hours she worked. She loved teaching.
Years later, in 1994 after I received two degrees from UNC and while working with Bob Scott and Bill Friday at the Rural Center, I told them the story of my teacher, Mrs. Williams.
Bob Scott was the Governor who unified the University of North Carolina University System. He appointed Sammie Chess Jr. as the first African-American Superior Court judge, and he challenged President Richard Nixon to prove his opposition to involuntary school busing by ordering the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school desegregation case. Bill Friday led the universities through the turbulence of the1960s and 1970s, including a lawsuit with the federal government over desegregation and university unification.
In 1994, I was the executive producer and creator of the “Rural Tele-Forum” at the Rural Center. In partnership with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the Community College System where Gov. Bob Scott was President, the state’s first Rural Tele-Forum was a live video teleconference that brought together nearly 850 people at five sites for a first-hand lesson in telecommunications. Bill Friday was the moderator. The person sitting on the front row in the room at UNC Wilmington was Eva Williams.
Later that same year, I was sworn into local elected office, and not surprisingly the people who documented their congratulations to me in writing were Bob Scott, Bill Friday and of course, Eva Williams. How fortunate I know I am for the intersection of these three education heroes in my life.
The editorial asks, “What greater resource is there than an excellent teacher?” None. I have never met a teacher who was a great teacher who did it for the money. And I never will. Our North Carolina teachers have great effects on our lives, beyond the basics they are required to teach. No salary can ever compensate them for the lives they inspire but they can be paid fairly for the professional job they do each and every day.
Jeanne Bonds is a political analyst and an NC Spin Panelist.