I am paid too much for being a teacher. Yes, you read that correctly. I am paid too much for being a teacher. Now that I am assured your attention, let me clarify that the "pay" I am talking about is nothing monetary. In fact, I am really paid in most facets other than money. Some days I am paid with disrespect, humiliation, and degradation. Others, I am paid with rudeness and demeaning conversations. I am paid too much negativity for being a teacher. Yet, I am still a teacher. Why? Because I am, also, paid on those days with the ability to teach love, worth, kindness, gentleness, and hope. On a fantastic day, I am even paid with heart-warming notes, hugs in the hallway, and a whispered "thank you." The real story of teacher pay far exceeds the salary that is causing so much hype in North Carolina right now. Do I believe teachers need a 10% pay raise as Dr. June Atkinson proposed last week to legislators? Absolutely. Yes, I do. I actually believe far more is needed to provide teachers in North Carolina anywhere close to the national average for the job they perform on a daily basis.
However, our perspective needs to change. As a culture, we as North Carolinians must start thinking outside of what our lawmakers and politicians identify as our constraints in educational spending. You see, I remember a day a long, long time ago (but not too long ago) when North Carolina led the educational world. We were the exception. When other states were struggling with respecting public education, our state lived out the belief that providing an education was worth every penny spent. Our culture was emblazoned with the motto that "knowledge is power," and every student, regardless of race, creed, or socioeconomic status, was entitled to a sound, quality education. There are remnants of this mentality floating around many educational arenas still today; however, the difference is these have gone from actions to whispers. There are a great few leading the charge to change the course of education in North Carolina for the better. There need to be far more of us.
For the past decade, teacher support, morale, salary, and respect has been on the decline. Constant headlines, editorials, articles, and movies depicting teachers as immoral and selfish has created a culture where balancing the budget on the backs of educators and school systems is tolerated. Contempt is what we are really paying our teachers. Not only are we insulting the education professionals with barely mediocre salaries, we are paying them with the ultimate in cultural disrespect for the profession.
Having been in my current position for seven months, it still continually surprises me when individuals I meet in public respond to my position as the 2015-2016 North Carolina Teacher of the Year with "oh, so what do you think about the teacher pay situation?" Um...hello. I am a teacher. Why is the first thought in our culture about how much I am paid? If I had responded that I was the North Carolina Firefighter of the year, I can only imagine that the response would be something like, "Wow, thank you for your service. I know you sacrifice so much to keep North Carolina safe. You are a true modern day hero." At least, that would be my response. Maybe even, "I know we don't pay you nearly enough for your sacrifice." Now, before some people take my comments completely out of context, let me clarify for everyone that I love and appreciate firemen and ALL state workers. As a matter of fact, I would have lost my home to wildfires twice if not for my local fire department!
So, what does this line of questioning illustrate? Our lack of cultural awareness as to the real job of a teacher. For many, the only dealings with teachers come from their own childhood for which the reality and clarity has faded with age. Many believe everything they read on social media or see in the movies is the reality of the classroom. Let me assure you, I could make a movie of my classroom, and some days would make you want to give everything you have to provide a loving home environment for my students, while other days would make you want to start taking anti-depressants if you have to hear one more parent or community member degrade your professional career. Regardless, you will find an educator who respects the needs of her students and constantly instills in them that they are loved, valued, and worthy. You see, we educators understand that education is an essential element of a contributing citizen. Why, then, must our society base the value of education on monetary gain? Where are the North Carolina educational values of days past?
Bottom line: Educators need a raise. Not just the novice, not just the veteran. Every. Single. Educator. ALL state employees deserve a raise. A raise not only in salary, but a raise in cultural respect for our professions. Only then will our past educational values finally resurface to bring inspiration and hope for North Carolina’s future generations.