When the N.C. General Assembly rolled out pay raises for teachers six months ago, it was a timely move after the unrest and disillusion that filled public schools throughout the previous school year. I, unfortunately, missed out on the pay raise because I did what many teachers were threatening to do: I quit the job I loved. I had never received a raise, and there was none in sight. I was young, I had other dreams and I had my family’s future to think of.
If I had known that I would receive a 15 percent bump in pay, I might have stayed.
My wife did stay in teaching and saw an 18 percent pay raise. Needless to say, we were excited, but that excitement is something we often keep to ourselves. Many of our coworkers lost their longevity pay and saw less than 1 percent salary increases. It was hard for them to stomach, and many still feel disrespected.
But despite the feelings of most veteran teachers, this pay raise was a brilliant piece of legislation and one of the best things to happen to education in a long time.
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Lawmakers did their homework. Most teachers who leave the profession leave between years four and five. This is when many get married, some start thinking about children, and some move away. A raise at year five gives these mid-20-age teachers a huge incentive that can go toward their college loan debt or a down payment on a house. Lawmakers stopped the bleeding at its worst spot.
Retaining young teachers is more important, although many veteran teachers would vehemently disagree. Beginning teachers are cheaper and save tax dollars. More important, though, our schools need teachers who were trained to use changing curriculums and are open-minded and excited about it. Younger teachers bring in new and exciting ideas that veteran teachers often lack and too often oppose.
This is obviously not true for all. My colleagues at Durham School of the Arts were always trying new methods, but these are exceptions that ring true only for the best teachers. I have been in enough staff meetings to see the heated opposition to change that many veteran teachers display.
Furthermore, veteran teachers will not leave. It is a truth that lawmakers likely realized when they designed the outrageously minimum raises for teachers with 10 or more years of experience. People settle after age 30. The percentage who leave teaching drops dramatically. No matter how angry they get, very few will actually quit. They have job security, families that depend on them and health insurance. Lawmakers recognized that it costs less to keep veteran teachers, and they acted accordingly – a brilliant business move.
Last year’s teacher raises quelled public unrest. No one is wearing red anymore, Moral Mondays are just Mondays now, public support is waning and the Republicans won the elections. The battle is over, teachers lost and no one is listening anymore.
Lawmakers accomplished a task for the least amount of money, and for that I reluctantly applaud them. This was not immoral, it was amoral – it was brilliant business. Veteran teachers have a valid reason for being upset, but they should not be so myopic. They sacrificed, once again, for the betterment of our schools, and if they are angry about it, they should do something more than just passively wait for retirement. Hint: Ask young teachers for tips on protesting; they have a penchant for it.
William Tolbert of Durham is a master’s candidate in American and British literature at N.C. State University.