#TeachingInNC: 'Low teacher pay comes at a high cost for schools and kids'

Oct 31, 2014

Mark Jewell
Credit NCAE

When I look at these tweets from our amazing educators and students, a big smile comes across my face. It makes me reflect back to my own career as a NC public school teacher.

I have worked in education for 27 years.  I started in 1987, teaching in my home state of West Virginia. But by 1997 I was in the classroom in Guilford County, lured to North Carolina because of her reputation as a leader in innovation and classroom practices.

I, like so many teachers across our great state, can tell you with great joy the hundreds of examples of ordinary students doing extraordinary things in the classroom; Tell you the time when tears filled my eyes, when life hit a student like a ton of bricks, and give you the names of kids who were the first in their family to go to college.  Just as we see demonstrated in these wonderful pictures and comments, teachers live for that moment when a light clicks on for a student, and learning really begins to take hold.

Each morning, all across the state, in rich communities and in poor, in the rural hollers to the bustling skylines of the Triad, Triangle, and Charlotte; bells ring and school doors open. Through those doors walk the children of this state, some from wealthy neighborhoods, some from impoverished, some from secure families and some who have all too often known nothing but tragedy and defeat.  Through the doors they walk and in every school there is an educator waiting on them to say "good morning," or "welcome," and "open your books and let's begin."

We have never accepted a broken system. NC teachers have invested blood, sweat, and tears to improve the lives of the 1.5 million children who walk through our doors. To be frank, our schools are not failing. Many of our elected leaders, on the other hand, do not put their money where their rhetoric rests.

We have never accepted a broken system. NC teachers have invested  blood, sweat, and tears to improve the lives of the 1.5 million children who walk through our doors.

To be frank, our schools are not failing.  Many of our elected leaders, on the other hand, do not put their money where their rhetoric rests.

A real measure of reform starts with the following: Students need smaller class sizes so they can receive individual attention; we need professional educators, the best and the brightest, that are given the time and flexibility to teach; we need standards of excellence; and parents and communities that support educators and their schools. 

Today, we rank 46th in salaries, 51st in income advancement over the last decade, and 48th in per pupil funding.  We are now in Mississippi and South Carolina's rearview mirror!

Mississippi ranks above North Carolina in per pupil spending by investing $9,427 per student and climbed to 36th in national rankings from last year.  North Carolina now spends $8,433 per student and is only beating Texas, Utah and Arizona. 

North Carolina topped one list as the state with the steepest decline (-15.7%) in teacher salaries from 2001-2012 after adjusting for inflation.  Despite this lack of support, North Carolina continues to get higher marks for teacher effectiveness.

We know that ensuring student success in this fast-changing world requires more from all of us. And yes, we are always willing to take responsibility for student success. But we also must regain our competitive edge to recruit and retain talent in our classrooms. It is time for policy makers to come together with educators and to figure out the solution to this crisis. 

Low teacher pay comes at a high cost for schools and kids, who lose good teachers to better-paying professions. Some 20 percent of new public school teachers leave the profession by the end of the first year, and almost half leave within five years. Pay-related turnover is especially high for minorities, males, and teachers under the age of 30.

Having highly qualified and talented teachers, just like the ones highlighted in these many wonderful pictures and tweets,  is essential to student success. But who in the future will be lured with wages that start low and fail to keep pace with our neighboring states?

Mark Jewell is Vice President, North Carolina Association of Educators.