Bryan Proffitt, vice president of the NC Association of Educators, was working as a furniture packer in 2004 when offered his first K-12 teaching job.
The competition for teaching positions in North Carolina was so fierce, Proffitt remembers, that he didn’t get a job offer until two weeks into the new school year despite having an advanced degree, teaching license, great recommendations and two years of experience as a university instructor under his belt.
“I was packing up someone’s house when I got the call that I got a job,” Proffitt said during an NCAE press conference Tuesday. “It was like getting called up to the majors. I couldn’t believe it.”
A lot has changed in 18 years, Proffitt said. Teaching jobs in the state are no longer coveted, and many educators are making the hard decision to quit the profession due to low pay and terrible working conditions. School districts are reporting hundreds of vacancies with only a few weeks left before the start of school.
Proffitt said a new licensing and compensation proposal backed by state education leaders to replace the state’s seniority-based teacher salary system with one that partially rewards teachers for student performance on state tests now threatens to make North Carolina’s teacher recruitment and retention efforts even more difficult.
He and a dozen or more educators, parents and supporters gathered at the Halifax Mall on Tuesday to push back against the plan educators complain relies too heavily on student test scores to reward teachers and does little to address recruitment and retention challenges.
“With respect to recruitment, we already know what works and what we can build upon,” Proffitt said. “North Carolina’s university system and its high-quality schools of education have been a source of great strength in our state for decades. Reinvest in our schools of education and expand programs that work like Teaching Fellows into our state’s historically black universities in order to recruit a teaching force that better reflects of state’s racial diversity.”
The NC Teaching Fellows is a merit-based, loan forgiveness program that provides up to $8,250 a year for up to four years to students who agree to teach in the fields of special education or S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) in state schools. Currently, the program’s eight universities include three minority-serving schools, North Carolina A&T and Fayetteville State universities and UNC Pembroke.
To keep educators in schools, Proffitt said the state must continue to pay them based on experience.
“Start every teacher in the state at a minimum of $45,000 and return to the annual experience steps and cost-of-living increases that historically have allowed veteran educators to stay in our classrooms with our kids,” Proffitt said. “Experience-based pay keeps high-quality educators in schools.”
The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) presented a draft proposal of the new system — labeled “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” — to the State Board of Education in April. If the proposal is approved and implemented, standardized tests, principal and peer evaluations, and student surveys would be used to determine whether a teacher is effective.
The proposal would create a system of entry-level certifications with the goal of bringing more people into the profession. One certification under the plan would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree.
The new model also creates multiple steps at which educators can advance in the profession, including “expert” and “advanced” teaching roles that allow them to earn higher pay for taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching novice teachers.
The NCAE press conference came just days after two of the state’s top education leaders made bold statements in support of revisions to the state’s licensure and pay program.
At last Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting, State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said changes are needed to improve teacher recruitment and retention.
Davis said North Carolina is in a “crisis” because too few students are enrolling in schools of education while veteran teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates.
“In short, our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant, negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.
The educators who joined Proffitt on Tuesday say they are skeptical about the changes they believe will deemphasize teaching experience. Davis and Truitt both deny the plan would move the state to a “merit pay” system.
Kiana Espinoza, an eighth-grade English teacher, said family and friends often ask how long she can continue to work in a profession that doesn’t provide adequate pay.
“My answer to them is that I can afford to be a teacher right now, but in a few years when I have more expenses and a family, who knows?” Espinoza said.
Susan Book, a Wake County parent and member of NC Families for Testing Reform, said she is concerned about teacher vacancies and the move to rely on student test scores to reward teachers.
“If you thought North Carolina’s teaching to the test was bad before, this system only increases the chances that it will get worse,” Book said. “That’s months of testing prep when our kids could be learning new material and expanding their creativity. I want our teachers to be more than a test score as well. Experience matters and I’m listening to teachers.”