Politics & Government

‘Don’t go be a teacher’ is the attitude NC schools chief wants to change. Here’s how.

Teacher salaries are rising in North Carolina, State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson said Tuesday, but more needs to be done to make the profession desirable for the next generation of aspiring educators.

Johnson announced Tuesday the creation of “Teach NC,” a public-private partnership that will be launched this spring to help improve the image of the teaching profession through marketing and to develop a statewide teacher recruitment system. He also said Tuesday that the average teacher salary in the state is approaching $54,000 and that he wants lawmakers to give at least a 5 percent pay raise this year.

“Teaching is a wonderful profession,” Johnson said at the event held at the Raleigh Convention Center. “It is a fulfilling, fruitful profession.

“Unfortunately right now throughout the state we have parents telling students, ‘Don’t go be a teacher.’ We need to reclaim the image of what teaching is.”

Johnson also announced Tuesday that the Wallace Foundation is paying to develop the North Carolina Leadership Dashboard, a new online tool for superintendents and charter school directors to use to help with school staffing. It will be ready by the 2019-20 school year.

Johnson said both new efforts will help achieve his #NC2030 plan, a strategy he announced Tuesday that will “ensure North Carolina’s public schools are the best place to learn and teach by 2030.”

Johnson had teased the news, saying beforehand that the event would include “major announcements for North Carolina’s education system.” Critics questioned making the announcement at a private, invitation-only event, especially after some people who registered were later disinvited after being told there weren’t enough seats.

“We are very pleased with the tremendous response to this important event,” said Drew Elliot, a spokesman for Johnson. “We certainly wish we could accommodate every educator and citizen who would like to attend, but at some point, the room fills up.”

The event was sponsored by the Wallace Foundation and, according to Elliot, didn’t spend any taxpayer dollars.

Critics went on Twitter Tuesday night to criticize the event.

“What NC Public Education doesn’t need is a slick PR campaign,” tweeted Tamika Kelly, an elementary school music teacher. “We need sustained and authentic investment in our public schools and that will sell itself. #NotInvited #InThisTogether #ncpol

Johnson was elected state superintendent in 2016, becoming the first Republican elected to that position in nearly a century.

To help carry out #NC2030, Johnson unveiled his legislative agenda. Items include:

Provide teachers with a salary increase of at least 5 percent to help make North Carolina the highest paying in the South;

Expand the NC Teaching Fellows program, which provides scholarships to future teachers;

Improve Read To Achieve implementation.

The state has spent more than $150 million since 2012 on Read To Achieve to improve early childhood literacy. But the percentage of third-grade students passing the state reading exam is dropping. Johnson said the focus needs to be on reading and not assessing students.

A recently released state report shows that teacher turnover is dropping in North Carolina. But 7,674 teachers quit the profession in the 2017-18 school year. Fewer people are going to college to become teachers in North Carolina.

Johnson argued that teaching is a good profession to enter, citing data such as how the average salary for a beginning teacher in North Carolina is $39,300 compared to $26,400 a year that the average college student makes after graduating from a UNC system college.

Johnson also said that the average teacher salary in North Carolina is now over $53,000 a year and that the median teacher salary is now more than the median salary of someone with a 4-year college degree in North Carolina.

“You want to live in rural North Carolina,” Johnson said. “It’s your hometown and that’s where you want to stay. You have a pathway to be a teacher and have a prosperous career, a fulfilling career.”

Johnson drew criticism from the N.C. Association of Educators last year when he said that the base starting salary of $35,000 for a teacher was “good money.”

Teach NC is a collaboration of the state Department of Public Instruction, BEST NC, a business coalition focused on education; and Teach.org, a website created by Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Education.

Johnson said support for Teach NC will also come from the Belk Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Coastal Credit Union. It will share why people should become teachers and how they can become teachers, Johnson said.

“It’s going to make it possible for the public to have a glimpse into the great work that is happening in North Carolina classrooms every single day,” said Matthew Scialdone, a teacher at Middle Creek High School and a former Wake County Teacher of the Year. “Teach NC will be a world-class resource for future teachers.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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