An editorial in today’s Wilmington Star-News does an excellent job of explaining why the ranks of North Carolina teachers and teachers in training are thinning:
“Apparently, a lot fewer people want to be teachers in North Carolina.
Gee. Wonder why?
Alice Chapman, vice president for academic programs in the University of North Carolina system, told the N.C. Board of Education that enrollment in undergraduate and graduate education programs — essentially, the teacher-track course at the state’s public colleges — has declined by 30 percent since 2010.
The brain drain has slowed a bit, Chapman noted; in 2014-2015, the drop-off was just 3.4 percent. Still, she called the trend ‘very concerning.’
That’s an understatement. With North Carolina hovering around 42nd place out of the 50 states in how much we pay teachers, we’re not likely to draw very many new teachers from somewhere else. The UNC figures mean our homegrown supply of teachers is shrinking, even as school enrollments grow.
Now, before the Great Recession, teacher salaries in North Carolina stood very near the U.S. median. Legislators — in both Democrat and Republican years — chose to put off hard financial decisions by putting off raises. Now we’re seeing the result.
This year, with a $450 million surplus in the bank, our Honorables gave a 2 percent raise — but only to beginning teachers. The rest had to content themselves with the $750 one-time-only bonus other state employees got.
The state Department of Public Instruction reports a teacher turnover rate of 15 percent last year — which means teachers moving on to other jobs. Earlier, the department found that 1,082 North Carolina teachers took jobs in other states last year, roughly triple the number who moved away in 2010.
Of course, money isn’t everything. In the past, though, many teachers chose the security of steady employment and the promise of a pension.
Even that, however, seems to be eroding. This past week, the trustees of North Carolina’s state health plan considered a plan to eliminate spouses from coverage for teachers and other state employees. Those unlucky husbands and wives would likely have to turn to Obamacare for coverage.
And, for a while last summer, the state Senate seriously considered dropping health care benefits for retired teachers. Like so many bad ideas, we can expect to see this one again.
That noted conservative capitalist Henry Ford established the principle that if you want to keep skilled employees, you have to pay them what they’re worth.
Teachers aren’t as respected as once they were. (And if you want to know how things used to be, dig up Frances Gray Patton’s vintage novel ‘Good Morning, Miss Dove.’) Try to discipline a lazy or disruptive pupil, these days, can bring on an attack from “helicopter” parents — or, perhaps we should call them helicopter gunship parents.
Changing a culture and public behavior is hard. (Ask any clergyperson.) Paying a decent wage is easier. When General Assembly candidates show up to ask for your vote, ask them what they’re going to do about teacher pay.
Then vote accordingly.”