Editorial: Why better teacher pay is important
The good news: It looks as though teachers in North Carolina will be getting a raise no matter what version, House or Senate, of a state budget is finally approved.
The bad news: It’s still teacher pay.
A teacher in North Carolina with zero to four years of experience can expect to make $37,ooo a year. An N.C. teacher with 25 or more years in the classroom will top out between $52,350 and $53,350.
What do these numbers at both ends of the experience scale tell us? For one, a young man or woman coming out of college who becomes a teacher in North Carolina can expect to start at a lower salary than other professionals.
Computer programmers, engineers, public accounting professionals and registered nurses all start at higher annual salaries, for example. NEA (National Education Association) Research says annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years in relation to annual pay for other workers with college degrees. “Throughout the nation the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher, NEA Research says.
What this means is, teachers start with pay lower than other professionals, and the more years they put into teaching, the wider the gap becomes. Based on the N.C. House and Senate versions of the state budget now being considered, legislators are saying a new teacher’s value 25 years from now will be worth only $15,000 to $16,000 more a year.
That will hardly keep pace with inflation and is no incentive to stay in the education profession should something better come along. Society expects so much of teachers but likes to explain away their low pay by believing it’s a calling and thinking they have it easier with long summer vacations and short work days.
But teachers work long hours at home preparing lesson plans and grading students’ work. Many use their summers to hold second jobs, teach summer school or take classes for certification renewals or to advance their careers.
Teachers in classrooms are called on to be adaptive, creative and resourceful — and much of that comes with experience. A lot of people excel in their fields, but do they have a teacher’s ability to make that information digestible for young minds? Do they have the patience to be surrogate parents for children often neglected at home?
But back to why fair and better teacher pay will always be important. Close to 50 percent of new teachers are leaving the profession within their first five years, blaming low pay, and 37 percent of teachers who plan to leave the profession before retirement also cite low pay for those decisions.
If legislators who tout the importance of economic development and an educated workforce are serious, they need to do a better job of investing in teachers because North Carolina is losing on two fronts — the young educators and the experienced ones are both looking for something better.