Students Deserve More Anthology

Dr. Amy Swain’s Story

Dr. Amy Swain

Dr. Amy Swain

I was arrested because I refused to move.  At 5:20 pm, in the middle of rush hour traffic in downtown Raleigh, I locked hands with Anca Stefan and Dawn Amy Wilson and 11 other educators as we stretched across the intersection of Morgan and Fayetteville, and I refused to move.

A police officer walked down the line of red bodies and informed us that if we did not move, we would be arrested.  In that moment, fourteen educators drew close, locked arms at the elbows, and doubled down.  From the sidelines, where hundreds of educators, parents and students gathered in support, came Assata Shakur’s reminder, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.  It is our duty to win.  We must love each other and support each other.  We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

I refused to move because I am an educator and because it is my duty to love and support my students.

I refused to move because I am doing my job.

I proudly teach at one of the best – and oldest – high schools in Durham, North Carolina.  My school has a long tradition of academic and athletic excellence and serves a diverse population of over 2,000 students.

And my school is seriously underfunded.

Roach carcasses decorate the hallways, while their live counterparts spill out of drawers, metal cabinets, and from walls that don’t connect to floors in several classrooms.  Our students believe that the cockroaches will one day be student teachers, which would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

The conditions of the restrooms at my school are deplorable.  At any given time, there are broken locks on the stall doors, trash bags covering broken sinks and clogged toilets, empty soap dispensers, and a disconcerting lack of toilet tissue or paper towels. Many of our water fountains do not work.

There are three dictionaries in my classroom. I have 32 English IV textbooks for 120 students.  If I want a classroom set of novels for students, I am told to set up a fundraising website and ask the public for money – the same public whose tax dollars are withheld from public schools.

The circumstances of my school are mirrored in other schools across the state.  We have students attending schools in aging, crumbling buildings, and yet, the Wake County Detention Center has better facilities than almost all of the schools in my district.

Our state continues to divest in public education and drive money into vouchers and charter school corporations and has the gall to call that opportunity.  But it’s only opportunity for some – and not all of our students.  Vouchers and charter schools largely account for the re-segregation of American education, with white kids being securely funneled into fully-funded “new” schools while black and brown and poor kids remain in public schools with vanishing resources.  Our state commits these injustices on public dollar – at the public’s expense.

Our state has designated close to 600 schools as failing or low-performing without ever funding them properly.  It’s like cutting someone’s feet off and then castigating them for not running a marathon – it makes absolutely no sense.  Recent legislation has allowed for an Achievement School District in North Carolina, when the current ‘experiments’ in Tennessee and other places have not yielded favorable results.  School takeovers also mean that many of our North Carolina teachers will be fired and replaced with poorly prepared Teach for America contract workers – which our state has to pay additional to staff – thus affecting the job possibilities for the already dwindling numbers of teachers produced by our high quality, nationally certified teacher preparation programs at NC Schools and Colleges of Education.

I refused to move because our state spends almost $2500 below the national average per student, and our students suffer directly.  We have part-time, one day a week nurses and social workers who show up sometimes but not often enough.

I refused to move because our state passed the hateful HB2 – an openly discriminatory legislation against my students – students who deserve to love and be loved and to live as their fullest selves.

(for the record:  The state could have funded an educator’s yearly salary from that emergency session – an extra educator who could have reduced my class loads from 32 to 18.)

I refused to move because there are students who will start kindergarten this fall and never make it to twelfth grade because they will be pushed out of underfunded, overcrowded schools – criminalized because they are black or brown or poor – because we put more police officers in our schools than guidance counselors.

I refused to move because our state is openly attacking public education.  Because our state is dismantling public education and selling control to private interests – in the name of “opportunity”.

I have been a teacher for almost 13 years. This is my life’s work. Everything that I am is dedicated to education because my students have changed my life.

The picture below is of me on the last day of school, 12 years ago – the year that I learned that there is no level playing field, no equal opportunities, no fair chances.

That was the year I began to fight back.

Our country was founded on a deeply rooted belief in the collective action of a group of committed individuals and the conviction of freedom.  Our history has been shaped by people who have refused to move – who saw injustice and remained steadfast in their fight against it.  From the grape fields in California to the lunch counter in Greensboro, hope has been the seed of freedom planted by our ancestors along the way.

To me, freedom is the pursuit of possibility, of growth in innumerable ways, unlimited, unrestrained – of an exploration of chance and a fully realized self-identity.

Education is about freedom. Depriving students of education is the denial of possibility – and it should be criminal.  But we were arrested for “inconveniencing” drivers last week.

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

And so, I will fight for my students.

I will fight with everything I have so that my students have everything they deserve.

I will fight in the classroom and I will fight in the streets.

I refuse to be moved.


The work continues.  We have nothing to lose but our chains:

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5 Comments on "Dr. Amy Swain’s Story"


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[…] Read Amy’s story. […]

Matt Maginley
1 year 6 months ago

Dr. Swain. Thanks for clearly and carefully laying out the issues for us. Thanks for standing tall. Thank you for your love and courage for your students.

Lynette Gould
Lynette Gould
1 year 6 months ago

Thank you…please know that your efforts are not going unnoticed!

1 year 6 months ago
This is one of the things that angers me, sickens me, and depresses me greatly. What started to truly anger me is that while our public school system was perhaps not great when I went through it, it was certainly adequate. Today, we have the republican party claiming quite loudly that they care about the children, yet do everything in their power to cut funding for real education by substituting vouchers and charter schools for traditional schools. The one thing that sickens me is that for all the privatization of what used to be functions of the government, the thing… Read more »
1 year 6 months ago “Given the existing racial and income disparities, the most likely benef ciaries of North Carolina’s voucher program – put on hold by a court injunction – are minority students. This is exactly what we saw in Florida after the state passed the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Today, 70 percent of scholarship students attending private schools are black or Hispanic. Half of the students come from single-parent households, while the average scholarship student lives in a family with a household income just 9 percent above poverty.” “Dr.” Swain, maybe you should do just a tad of research outside of the… Read more »