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What do teachers need?

“If teachers were motivated by money, they wouldn’t be teachers.”

  A motivated teacher

By Gary Pearce

Talking About Politics

Republican legislators brag about their pay raises for teachers. Governor Cooper says teachers deserve more.

But what do teachers want?

It’s more than more pay.

If you talk with concerned, motivated teachers, they care more about:

• Too much testing

• Arbitrary standards

• A lack of autonomy

• Overbearing and under-informed administrators

• No voice in how they do their jobs.

One teacher said, “The only people talking about teacher pay are politicians and journalists.”

Which raises two questions, one political and one policy. Political: How potent is the teacher pay issue, really? This is especially crucial for Democrats who want to be seen as public-school champions battling public-school-bashing and private-school-promoting Republicans.

The policy question is: What do teachers really need?

They need, first of all, for their voices to be heard, their experience respected and their ideas put front and center in education debates.

During his third and fourth terms, Gov. Jim Hunt became a revered figure among teachers. It wasn’t just because he raised teacher pay here to the national average – and to the top 20 among the states.

He listened to teachers. He respected them. He included them in policy-making, priority-setting and legislation-writing. He gave them a voice, and he heard and acted on what they said and what he learned.

Is that happening today in the education debates — at the local, state or federal levels?

Or is the situation still the same as when one of the teachers quoted above took an education-policy class in college? The first day, the professor warned: “Everything you do in the classroom will be dictated by a bunch of old white men who haven’t been in a classroom in decades.”

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