Mom, 2 daughters build lives around education

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comNovember 17, 2013 

  • American Education Week A number of activities are planned for this week’s observance, including: Monday: CMS employees, parents and community members are encouraged to wear jeans and red as a show of solidarity and support for CMS and public education. Tuesday: Employees are invited to attend “Teach: Valuing Our Teachers,” a documentary to be aired from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St. Educators get free parking in the Seventh Street parking deck. Wednesday: Parent-teacher organizations will sponsor events such as meals or volunteer tasks to help educators. Thursday: All CMS senior leaders will spend the day in schools to support school staff.

Debra Semmler says she didn’t steer her two daughters into careers as high school science teachers.

“They came to it by themselves,” says Semmler, who has taught physics at East Mecklenburg High School for more than 15 years. “And they seem happy with what they’re doing.”

Semmler and her two daughters – Katie Semmler and Kim Beeker – will join other teachers around the country this week in the 92nd observance of American Education Week. Teachers, parents and others are being asked this week to “Raise Your Hand” in support of education.

The week begins Monday with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff members, and their counterparts in a number of other systems, being asked to wear red in support of education. It’s the same color that educators wore earlier this month during the “Walk-In” protest against budget cuts and other education-related decisions made by the N.C. General Assembly this year.

Debra Semmler, 54, was a chemical engineer with Duke Energy and taught six years at CPCC before coming to CMS.

Kim Beeker, 27, is in her fifth year with CMS. She taught biology at West Mecklenburg before moving to Hough High School more than two years ago.

Katie Semmler, 25, worked in cancer research before joining the staff at North Mecklenburg High School two years ago as a chemistry teacher.

On the opening day of American Education Week, the Observer talked with the three teaching members of the Semmler family about what’s right – and wrong – with public education.

Q. Two of you left private industry to teach. What brought you to this profession?

Debra: I realized in graduate school that what I enjoyed most about science was teaching, not the research. I love coming to school every day.

Kim: I really enjoy the students. A couple of times, I’ve told myself that this will be my last year. But at the end of the year, I always decide to come back.

Katie: I had to wrestle with some of it. We don’t pay our teachers well, and that made it seem as if I was entering a profession that wasn’t well-respected. But it’s something I wanted to do. And now I know I made the right decision.

Q. What do you enjoy about teaching?

Debra: I really feel as if I’m helping students. I wouldn’t be doing this otherwise.

Kim: I agree with my mom. I’m making a difference in people’s lives. And there’s never a dull moment.

Katie: When we were discussing DNA, one of my female students told me she doesn’t agree with anyone who says it’s not important. “I look at myself in the mirror every day and say, ‘Thank you, DNA!’” the student told me.

Kim: Our weekend family dinners consist of trading stories.

Q. What about the parents? Are they supportive?

Kim: My (students’) parents always seem supportive. They’re a lot of help.

Debra: I don’t know. I see some absentee parents. I’m afraid there are still some people out there who don’t take much of a role in their children’s lives.

Q. How about the curriculum? The administration? Is all of that working for you?

Kim: I like (Superintendent) Heath Morrison. He gives a positive vibe.

Debra: The change in administration has been good. I feel supported.

Katie: I know there are some complaints about the new Common Cure curriculum, but I like it. With the new curriculum, I give students the tools, but they have to do the thinking.

Q. Teacher pay, larger classroom sizes and other changes in North Carolina have a lot of educators upset. What are your reactions?

Debra: A lot of what’s happened makes me angry. It should be the best of the best going into education. But we’re chasing people away.

Kim: I don’t understand how these changes improve the system. Sometimes it feels as if the state is saying that anyone could do my job.

Katie: I worked in research. I know some people were smarter than me. But they couldn’t teach.

Kim: My husband (a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer) and I would like to start a family. But there’s no way we could do it, with my salary.

Q. What about the new technology?

Debra: For the most part, I love the new technology. But cheating with cellphones is a problem. Some students use their phones to take pictures of the test. They spread around the answers.

Kim: We sometimes have to make new tests between first block (period) and fourth block.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107

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