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Educator's view: Cutbacks would have deep impact

By William D. Robertson
For the Salisbury Post
Education has its toughest battle yet ahead. If legislators make the wrong decisions in the N.C. General Assembly, our schools could experience a regression devastating to our students and our state’s future. Among items on the potential chopping block as possible disposables are jobs of teachers and teacher assistants, a 3 percent (or more) salary cut for all educators, incentive pay for national board certified teachers, pay differential for those with graduate degrees and educators’ one prize benefit of fully subsidized health insurance.
Being an educator is tougher than ever, with lack of parental support and student misbehavior at an all-time high. Issues such as drugs, neglect, abuse, gang activity and lack of regular nutrition face students in our schools, making the challenges for teachers insurmountable in fulfilling their requirements as miracle workers. And, while teachers are asked to create a stress-free environment for troubled students, they attempt this miracle work while being stressed themselves by the ever-present gun of accountability pointed at their heads, ever-growing mountains of paperwork and the prospects of losing income necessary to provide for their families.
I have known many educators through the years who spent countless nights and weekends away from their own families on behalf of their students and schools. Many work on lesson plans until 1 or 2 in the morning or get up each morning at 4 or 5 to plan. Many spend $5,000-$7,000 (or more) of their family incomes to attain master’s degrees and other graduate work. Many complete their national board certification, spending much income and time away from family. Educators feel that sacrificing time and money to further their education and advance their certification makes them better teachers. For example, research demonstrates that students of national board certified teachers experience significant gains in the classroom. However, these proposed budget cutbacks would significantly punish all educators and their students, including educators with advanced training or certification.
Are we a state that talks out of both sides of its mouth by proclaiming we desire the highest quality personnel working with our students, yet would exercise options abolishing that quality? In an age when North Carolina’s teacher salaries are already near the bottom of the nation, when great educators are leaving the classrooms in droves to make a living elsewhere, and when young people of superior quality are laughing at the idea of teaching for a living, can we afford to completely drop the ball at this point? And, before anyone asks, “What about the two-month vacations that teachers get?” please understand that teachers are 10-month employees earning no money in the summer months; they are often called in to attend workshops or perform other duties without pay while having to arrange and/or pay for child care.
I have a feeling tomorrow’s young professionals may not be willing to invest in a college education and live like monks unable to provide for their families. Many of today’s educators have worked two and sometimes three part-time jobs away from their families while teaching full-time, but I sense a new generation of educators may not subject themselves to the personal sacrifice, stress and lack of support currently expected of educators. They just might want something more. …
Unfortunately, great educators are leaving the profession in droves. I and 95 percent of my colleagues admit we discourage our own children and no longer encourage or recruit our students to pursue a career in education. Of course, if a student desires to be an educator, I offer my full support … but I no longer actively recruit young people to enter this profession because I cannot in good conscience do so knowing the profession is so volatile in its security, so lacking in its support and is not a viable occupation to provide for a family in relation to the necessary training and expense.
A nobel calling
Do not get me wrong, legislators and fellow citizens, teaching students is noble in and of itself. We never question whether we have wasted our time on the lives of young people, for we have not. However, I and other educators have to provide for our families. Unfortunately, at the grocery store, $200 and nobility will get you $200 worth of groceries. At the college registrar’s office, $8,000-$10,000 per semester might allow your child to attend a state university, but nobility will not get you a discount. Many teachers consider (and do) move to other states where teacher pay is higher, class size is lower and there is more job security. We are losing good people, people!
Legislators and citizens, I beg of you. Think of our students. Think of our future. Think of the quality of people you want teaching your children. And, in a time when our state’s economic engine is running out of steam, would it really make sense to punish the largest workforce in our state financially and disable them from patronizing businesses and paying for services?
We are a society in which a man can become a billionaire being a professional golfer; a professional athlete can make more money in a single championship event than a teacher can make in a 30-career of teaching thousands of children. When we contend that two hours of time from an athlete, pop star, TV star or movie idol are worth more investment that 30 years of a good teacher’s career, then our priorities are inverted in the worst way. We can do better, although the prospect is sometimes gloomy.
We live in a society in which many people will drive across the country to attend a race in Concord but will not attend their child’s PTA or take 15 minutes to read books to their children. We can do better, although the prospect is sometimes gloomy.
We live in a society in which John Doe will not vote for a school bond that might cost him $50 or $100 more a year but will not hesitate to attend an NCAA tournament or a rock concert out-of-state, investing several thousand dollars in the weekend. We can do better, although the prospect is sometimes gloomy.
Longterm investment
Just before the Roman Empire fell, they were at their most hedonistic, paying their greatest athletes (gladiators and chariot drivers) millions of dollars in contemporary currency value. At that time, they were much less concerned about attending to social mechanisms that actually kept their society functioning. The Romans had a “Charlotte Motor Speedway” with their Circus Maximus, and they had a “Panther Stadium” with their Colosseum. If this in any way sounds like our society today, then indeed, prospects may be very gloomy!
We as a society allot our resources like a kid with a dollar passing by an ice cream shop. Forget the veggies and other long-term investments of substantive quality. We desire only sweets, wanting instant gratification. Education is a long-term investment, but by operating under the “fly now, pay later” method, our children and our grandchildren are going to have to pay later — and pay dearly — for any lack of stewardship we exhibit today regarding public education.
I beg our educators and legislators to take a stand for our future, our children and their educators. Please do not continue to drive our best teachers out of the state by severely “taxing” them with pay cuts to offset what is supposed to be the budget shortfall of all citizens of our state.

Dr. William D. Robertson, Ed.D., better known as “Dr. Rob” to local citizens, is a a former systemwide Teacher of the Year for Iredell-Statesville Schools and a finalist for systemwide Teacher of the Year for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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