Recently I met with the director of human resources for Durham public schools and was told something a North Carolina public school teacher never expects to hear: I was overpaid.
I have a master’s degree in teaching from Duke University, yet I wasn’t supposed to get extra pay for the extra degree. Apparently I failed to meet one of the exceptions for teacher pay in the state of North Carolina, which states the following:
Only the following teachers and instructional support personnel shall be paid on the “M” salary schedule …
(3) Teachers and instructional support personnel who (i) complete a degree at the master’s, six-year, or doctoral degree level for which they completed at least one course prior to August 1, 2013, and (ii) would have qualified for the salary supplement pursuant to State Board of Education policy TCP-A-006, as it was in effect on June 30, 2013.
I was told that the amount I was overpaid came out to $1,750 plus a $219 supplement – a grand total of $1,969. With that, I was then told I had to pay back what I was overpaid. My master’s degree that once would have warranted that extra amount no longer had that value.
Initially, I was given the remaining four months of the school year to pay back what was owed, but was given special consideration and the repayment plan was lengthened to lighten the load of what will be taken out of my checks.
It was troubling to realize that future master’s degree teachers would not be compensated for graduate studies, unless their position required it, and that such a change was put in place to begin with.
The 2015-2016 state-by-state ranking for teacher pay had North Carolina listed at 41st in the nation. The same report noted that we were ranked 42nd the year before. Also, according to the National Education Association, North Carolina has seen the largest decrease in teacher salary (minus-17.4 percent) over the decade from 2003-04 to 2013-14, in constant dollars adjusted for inflation.
Denying master’s level pay for prospective teachers with degrees granted after 2013 is not only damaging to the profession, but it also diminishes the value of graduate education programs in the state. This seemingly arbitrary rule, that needs immediate attention and repeal, has the capacity to increase teacher turnover numbers considering how low the state already ranks for teacher salary. If not addressed, this exception could potentially bring an end to the use of programs, like Duke and UNC’s MAT programs, that equip young educators with the necessary skills.
While not a requirement for most teaching positions, pursuing a MAT degree strengthens the teaching skills of any incoming educator. It also helps educators address issues in the classroom, such as transgender and civil rights, legislative actions that impact public education and race relations. If highly qualified teachers pursue these graduate education degrees and then leave to teach in other states because of low teacher salaries in North Carolina, the landscape of the state’s education system will be adversely affected with regard to inclusive teaching, as well as receiving appropriate pay based on the degree a given teacher holds. The social and political climates of the South continue to change with the transformation of our democracy. Thus, the need for highly skilled, well-trained teachers increases with every new student entering the school system. Estimates have shown across the country that minority students are becoming the majority on campus – a trend likely to increase.
These teacher readiness programs train educators to include all students in the classroom regardless of ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. If prospective educators forgo these programs, we may continue to see a decline in our state’s ranking regarding education and education spending.
Jamal Michel teaches English at Northern High School in Durham.