In a recent Education Week blog post, former Executive Director of the National Education Association and the North Carolina Association of Educators John Wilson lays out a compelling argument for teachers to be compensated like the highly skilled professionals that they are. Factoring in inflation, teacher salaries have declined by 3.4% over the last ten years. The situation is even worse in North Carolina, which has plummeted from 22nd in the nation in average teacher pay (following a successful campaign to improve teacher pay in 2000) to 41st in the nation in 2010-11. Over the past ten years, North Carolina ranks 51st in the nation in teacher raises.
In the highest performing educational systems in the world, teacher pay is equivalent to what other professionals receive – making teaching one of the highest status and most sought-after professions. In the United States, teachers earn 20% less than other workers possessing similar levels of education and experience.
The relationship between teacher and student has a profound impact on student achievement. As recent events have made clear, today’s teachers must educate a student population that has become increasingly diverse, multifarious, and, in some cases, difficult to reach. They must be prepared to educate students who have learning disabilities, speak languages other than English at home, and have exceptionally difficult home lives. Parents are working longer hours and there are more single-parent families, making parental involvement less common than it once was. In short, over the past decade we have continuously expected teachers to do more for less.
Many policymakers have focused on improving teaching by holding teachers accountable and making it easier to fire low-performing teachers. But to anyone who has spent time working in schools, the concept that teachers must fear for their job in order to be dedicated to it does not ring true. There are many reasons why teachers choose to teach, but in the end they teach because they are passionate about improving the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.
North Carolina cannot fire its way to a better teaching force – it must be built. As is the case for all professions, teacher wages and conditions must be improved in order to attract a high quality pool of potential teachers. Teacher compensation should reflect the value our society places on the incredibly difficult and important work that teachers do in educating our children. By allowing teacher wages to stagnate and decline, states like North Carolina are sending the message that teachers simply do not matter much. That needs to change.