The wheels on the bus

Published August 31, 2023

By Lib Campbell

School bells are ringing across North Carolina. Children are having backpacks blessed. Seniors are driving decorated cars around neighborhoods to the school parking lot. Excitement rises as the back-to-school rituals crank up.

In idyllic times, schoolchildren come to school rested and fed, equipped with the supplies needed to do their schoolwork. Busses make the rounds picking up children at reasonable times and convenient stops. A qualified teacher is prepared and present for the students filling the desks. A library is equipped with a broad spectrum of resources. Everybody is open to encouraging critical thinking, broadening young minds for life in an increasingly complicated world.

But we don’t live in that idyllic world. In Wake County alone, there are nearly three hundred classrooms that don’t have teachers and seventeen bus routes that don’t have drivers. Too many kids lack supplies; too many experience food insecurity that makes learning hard.

Nationwide there are massive teacher shortages. The numbers are not in for the year just begun but in North Carolina last year there were 5,540 teaching vacancies on the opening day of school.

There are many reasons for vacancies – COVID caused teachers to rethink their profession. School boards become politicized with angry parents railing against teachers, causing some to be fired for book choices in the classroom. In North Carolina, teacher assistants have largely been eliminated. Teacher pay is low for the amount of work and responsibility that is asked of a teacher. Even a master’s degree doesn’t guarantee higher pay.

One of the preparations taught now is active shooter training. Sheltering in place seemed hypothetical until a raged gunman at UNC Chapel Hill shot his faculty advisor and all schools in the area were placed on lockdown. School safety used to be a patrol officer with a sign and an orange vest to help children across the street. There have been 386 school shootings in America since Columbine. The arguments are loud – give teachers guns and train them as shooters. That could be another reason for teachers leaving the profession.

When fewer students enter teacher education, the pipeline inches downward. Options include virtual learning, with classroom assistants available to help when there are questions. Retired teachers are discouraged from re-entering classrooms, because they lose retirement benefits in what the nay-sayers call, “double dipping.” Another option is to fill classrooms with uncertified teachers, a self-defeating exercise.  

The public schools of North Carolina need our help and our support. We have elected representatives who seem intent on decimating public education while funding private education. The wheels are coming off the bus of public education. It also seems like there is a not-so-veiled attempt to re-segregate our schools. Michael Farris, a millionaire home-school advocate, is saying out loud that the goal for the parent’s rights bills all over the country is to “take down the education system as we know it today. Farris and Tiffany Justice, spokesperson of Moms for Liberty (promoting book banning) and others misrepresent public schools as places where “children are indoctrinated about gender identity and Critical Race Theory.” Teachers hardly have time to go to the bathroom! How on earth could their motive be indoctrination of children?

More ducation dollars are diverted to private and home schools. Home School pods are formed for group homeschooling with “No oversite. No taxpayer accountability. No academic or curriculum standards.” Is this how we want to educate children?

Teaching is a calling that now is being threatened by vocal angry parents who do not trust the education system enough to let teachers teach. The investment North Carolina makes in offering a sound basic education to every child will benefit our state in the long run.

I can’t blame teachers for not wanting to teach in a hostile environment. Overwork and underpay are just the tip of the iceberg of struggles teachers and administrators face on a daily basis. Leandro was decided in 1994. We are farther away from the ideal of Leandro now than we were then.

As political races shape up for upcoming primaries, we need to check the education positions of those running. Some candidates openly say they will defund schools in favor of funding vouchers to private schools, even private religious schools. Whatever happened to separation of church and state? Slopes are slippery in the political realm today. It is likely to get worse before it gets better.  

When our children learned the rhyme, Wheels on the Bus, we sang, even making up verses to add to the ditty. The wheels on the bus pull to the right, to the right, to the right. The wheels on the bus pull to the right all through the state. Re-alignment is needed or the bus will circle right down the drain if this trajectory does not change.

Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite She can be contacted at