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VA Teacher of the Year Calls on Lawmakers to Support Education

Toney McNair, Virginia's 2017 Teacher of the Year, says state lawmakers could be doing more to help educators make a difference in the students' lives. (Virginia Education Assn.)
Toney McNair, Virginia's 2017 Teacher of the Year, says state lawmakers could be doing more to help educators make a difference in the students' lives. (Virginia Education Assn.)
February 21, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia's Teacher of the Year says connecting with students is a calling, even an assignment for him, and he says lawmakers should provide the resources needed to help. The General Assembly is debating Gov. Terry McAuliffe's budget plan, including the first statewide teacher pay raise in years.

Indian River Middle School music teacher Toney McNair is widely praised for the bond he has with students. McNair says he doesn't teach for the money, but when the pay gets too low, it can get in the way. He sees the budget as a sign of the value the state places on education.

"Our students deserve it, our students need it, and our teachers are willing and ready, and able to provide it," he said. "We just need the resources to do what we have been called and assigned to do."

The General Assembly has been considering public-employee pay raises at the same time as a billion-and-a-half-dollar budget shortfall.

McNair says everyone remembers a favorite teacher, an educator who cared enough to treat students like family. He remembers a student who came to him crying so hard she couldn't talk, because her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. After crying with the student, and helping her through the crisis, McNair says he's getting to see how things have turned out.

"Her mom successfully made it through the chemo, and that student is graduating from high school," added McNair. "And I get an opportunity to see her walk across the stage. And I'm so proud."

According to the Virginia Education Association, teacher pay in the state ranks 30th in the nation, $7,200 below the average. Lawmakers have funded statewide teacher raises in two of the last ten years, and on a per-student basis, Virginia now spends less on education than it did in 2009.

McNair says when teachers put their hearts into what they do, the state needs to support them.

"Teachers do this on a daily basis," he explained. "That's what I mean when I say that it's an 'assignment' for me. Until we meet our students at their heart, we can not put anything into their heads."

The current General Assembly session adjourns this weekend.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA