Its one thing to talk in the abstract about North Carolina being 46th in teacher pay. Its another thing when your seventh-grade daughter brings home a letter from a 10-year veteran teacher at her school explaining that it has become financially untenable for him to support his family and that he is leaving to find work in another state.
Just to be clear, this is an excellent language arts and social studies teacher. My daughter says hes great at making language arts interesting, which isnt easy. And his departure in the middle of the school year leaves a great void that wont be easy to fill.
This teacher has already sacrificed a lot to do what he loves. He holds a second job on the side and rarely sees his wife and two young children, yet he inspires kids from all kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds to embrace literature, creating an award-winning poetry group almost every year. His students exceeded expected growth on standardized testing.
Yet, as hes done all of this, his family has burned through their savings, and his own children qualify for food assistance and Medicaid. His family has done their best to hang on so he can teach. Now, theyre completely tapped out. Theyre moving to Ohio, where instead of $38,000 a year for 10 years experience and a masters degree, he can support his family with one teaching job that pays between $65,000 and $70,000. Our loss will be Ohios gain.
To replace him, the state will offer only a short-term contract at an abysmal salary, with little support for professional development, no reward for an advanced degree and ever-growing expectations for performance.
This is the first time North Carolinas massive backslide in public education has directly affected my family, but its not the first time something like this has affected others. I am sure that many more children in our states public schools will lose a highly qualified, effective teacher over the coming year.
The misguided, short-sighted dismantling of public education and its complete disrespect for teachers make absolutely no sense. It negatively affects every single child in North Carolina. At the 10,000-foot level, we know that investing strongly in public education makes for a stronger economy, more opportunities and a higher standard of living across the board.
But forget the 10,000-foot level. Public education matters for individual families. What parent doesnt want to send a kid to a great school with great teachers? And if its something we all want, then why on earth shouldnt we invest in it together? We know that good schools depend on good teachers, so why are we running them off?
The sad news is that because of the low rates of teacher pay, the cuts in raises for those with advanced degrees and the continual pressure to do more with fewer tools and assistance in the classroom, it will be a miracle if the person who replaces my childs teacher is anywhere near as qualified or as effective.
Good teachers arent just widgets you can plug into a slot. Teachers are highly trained, dedicated human beings who need and deserve to feel valued and supported as they provide their incredibly vital services for our society. Teachers need tools, resources, ongoing professional development opportunities. Teachers deserve respect.
We deny teachers all of these things with our current education funding strategy, and we do so at the expense of our students and our states future.
Betsey Russell is a nonprofit communications consultant who lives in Asheville. This appeared originally on the N.C. Policy Watch website.