Point of view

NC college students calling for commitment on teacher pay

March 26, 2014 

As a student studying education at our state’s flagship university, I have a stake in North Carolina’s educational system and want to help improve it. In my time at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have fallen in love with North Carolina’s charm, hospitality and people. However, as I begin to consider my options for teaching jobs, opportunities elsewhere are overpowering my desire to stay here.

Career opportunities for North Carolina teachers pale in comparison to those in other states. I want to be a career teacher. I want to find a school and community to love and settle in for the long haul. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the General Assembly and other policymakers in Raleigh respect my decision. The current policy landscape is damaging the morale of current teachers and dissuading potential recruits from signing on – a situation that will do nothing but hurt students in the long run.

In their recent survey of North Carolina teachers and school administrators, Scott Imig and Robert Smith of UNCW found that almost 75 percent of respondents were less likely to continue working in their roles as a result of legislative changes made in 2013. I can’t imagine what would happen if that large portion of educators actually decided to leave their schools for better-paid and better-supported careers in North Carolina.

For the professionals who want to continue teaching, all it would take is a drive south to our neighboring Carolina to increase their salaries by $2,000. Just a state beyond that, in Georgia, teachers would make $7,000 more.

Knowing all of this and then talking to mentors and friends who have recently become teachers, I don’t think it makes sense to look for teaching jobs in North Carolina. Stories of leaving school after a long day of work only to have to go work late shifts in retail to afford an apartment are not only terrifying, but all too common. I know that these new teachers, as well as my cohort of future teachers, deserve better. I want to spend my first years as a teacher worrying about the success of my students, not about how to afford food and a roof over my head. It is not out of line to ask that I have a salary and pay schedule that respect and reflect my hard work.

Fortunately, it is not too late. In the short session starting this May, the General Assembly has a chance to right some of the wrongs committed last summer and enact policies that will bring dignity and respect back to the teaching profession. Students at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, East Carolina University and Wake Forest University are working together as a coalition of Students for Education Reform (SFER) to ask for a change.

We are looking to our legislators to make this short session a productive one by making fundamental changes to the way teachers are compensated in North Carolina. Following CarolinaCAN’s policy recommendations, we are calling for an ongoing commitment from the General Assembly to align North Carolina’s salaries with those of our neighboring states and to create a salary schedule that emphasizes pay increases in the first five years of teaching, as these are the years in which research has shown teachers grow most.

SFER believes that, for too long, policy decisions surrounding teachers in this state have been made without the input or considerations of the very people they affect most. It is time for that to change.

The General Assembly has an opportunity to make 2014 the Year of the Teacher and to enact policies that would make it economically feasible for me to accept a teaching job in North Carolina next year when I graduate. Now is the time. Another year will be too late.

Malaika Hankins, a New Orleans native, is State Captain of SFER North Carolina.

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