NC teachers make the grade, and then some

Teacher Elizabeth Harbin writes the schedule for the day on blackboard.
Teacher Elizabeth Harbin writes the schedule for the day on blackboard.

The National Education Association in a report last spring said North Carolina was 35th in the nation in teacher pay, something that’s an improvement over recent years but far from acceptable. And those teachers in regular public schools, where most families send their children, have watched the Republicans running the General Assembly bash public schools with things like expanding the number of charters (public, but without the boundaries in mainstream schools) and with a voucher program that gives public money to parents to finance private schools for their children.

Both policies drain money from the conventional schools. And teachers sometimes feel like targets of GOP legislators, who seem bent on dismantling mainstream public education a little at a time and still won’t do enough on salaries. They’ve also done a politically showy thing of lowering class sizes in early grades – a perfectly fine idea – but without appropriating enough money to get that done without cuts in physical education and arts programs for all.

But somehow, some way, North Carolina continues to have a teaching corps that is in many ways exceptional.

And one way is that the state and Wake County lead the nation in the number of teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards – something that was released Monday.

North Carolina now has more than 21,000 National Board-certified teachers, 18 percent of all such teachers in the country. And Wake? It’s the top district in the nation, with 2,600 teachers who have this top certification.

One reason teacher advocates cite for the state’s high numbers, which have been where they are for a while, is that North Carolina gives teachers with the certification a 12 percent raise and provides low-interest loans to teachers to finance the certification process.

These are good things. But so are adequate budgets, more money for supplies – virtually all teachers spend money from their own pockets – and steady increases in salaries for all teachers to get them to the national average and then above the national average.

Teachers are continuing to do their part, with more than 600 of them earning certification statewide and 890 earning renewal, which has to be done every 10 years.

This is a tribute to the quality of people in North Carolina’s public school system, people who are working diligently in classrooms every day to help young people realize their potential. And many of them are doing it against the odds in low-income schools or districts, with teachers going the extra mile, or 10 miles, to give kids extra attention and higher goals.

North Carolina’s public education system has helped to lift the state to a noble aim of providing opportunity for all citizens and to ensure that all kids have a chance. The state may not be able to guarantee the outcome, but it can guarantee, and should, opportunity.

Great teachers make it happen. And North Carolina has its share of them, and then some.

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