Despite all the platitudes from politicians, especially in election years, North Carolina does not value public school teachers, not really.
That’s not only the fault of the folks currently in power, state leaders have been telling that lie for a long time, though the crowd in charge for the last four years has certainly made things a lot worse.
Governor Pat McCrory provided more evidence of that in remarks at a Wilson high school last week, though he didn’t mean to.
McCrory was there to praise the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology and told local civic and business leaders that the state needed to do much more to connect education with the development of marketable skills, which seems like a good idea.
McCrory said high school students need to know early what to concentrate on as they head to work or college.
“If you can convince a 9th grader that when I graduate,” McCrory said, “I have the chance to make $65,000 a year in a job, where in another profession after getting into a lot of debt, the starting salary is $25,000 to $30,000 a year.”
The current starting salary for a teacher is $33,000 and there aren’t many folks in the classroom making anywhere near $65,000, ever after decades on the job.
The message to bright 9th graders couldn’t be clearer than that. Don’t be a teacher. You won’t ever make much money, not in North Carolina.
McCrory’s not the only one making the point. One of the job openings listed on the state government website is an Administrant Assistant I position at the Department of Agriculture. The entry-level job does not require a college degree and the hiring pay range is $30,800 to $38,800.
That means with any luck, the next administrative assistant at the department will make more than a starting teacher in North Carolina—a job that we are told is the among the most important in state.
McCrory and legislative leaders say they will fulfill their commitment to raise starting teacher pay to $35,000–still in the middle of the range of what an entry-level administrative assistant makes—but they are already hinting that veteran teachers might not receive much of a raise for the second year in a row.
And of course the problem is not just about money. Roughly 700 schools across the state were branded with a grade of D or F last week when the state unveiled its first evaluation of schools under the new A-F grading system adopted by the General Assembly last session.
Eighty percent of the grade is based on student achievement and predictably almost all of the schools that received a D or F have a high percentage of low-income students.
Those schools and the teachers working hard every day at them have been publicly branded a failure thanks to legislative leaders, even though the teachers face problems that affluent schools rarely see, students who show up for class hungry, nursing an untreated toothache, or shoes that don’t fit.
And the folks running Raleigh these days didn’t only ignore veteran teachers and impose a stigmatizing grade on hundreds of schools, they’ve made it harder for the underpaid teachers to do their jobs.
Many of them now have larger classes. Teachers in early grades have lost their teacher assistants who used to help kids struggling to read. There are not enough textbooks to go around.
The budget for classroom supplies is absurdly low and most teachers wind up buying supplies themselves.
The 2011 General Assembly created a tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money on classroom materials, openly acknowledging the inadequate budget. Last session lawmakers repealed the tax credit and didn’t provide any more funding for supplies.
And adding insult to injury, last week the State Board of Education obeyed a legislative directive and approved two virtual charter schools, one run by a company that plans to have teachers responsible for as many as 150 students, with no requirement that the company provide learning coaches to help kids stay focused.
That’s a message too, that we don’t need experienced well-educated and accountable teachers in our classrooms interacting with our students and parents and communities, we can just outsource the job to a faceless contractor in a cubicle somewhere halfway across the country.
Think about how all that feels to a public school teacher in North Carolina. Respect and value are not the words that come to mind.