Teacher salaries have been dominating the news cycle lately, with the NC General Assembly debating a number of plans to address teacher compensation. Although North Carolina prides itself on its dedication to education and innovation, only four states in the entire country pay their teachers less than we do.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks that education is unimportant, so why don’t we put a premium on paying teachers? Maybe it’s because most teachers are women.
Of the nearly 100,000 public school teachers in North Carolina, more than 75,000 are women. And like most professions that are comprised mainly of women, teaching is underpaid and undervalued by those who make the budget.
North Carolina teachers make an average of $35,000 a year, with small increases over time. Allowing for holidays and summer vacations, this comes out to less than $20 an hour, assuming teachers never put in hours outside of the school day.
And even within this female-dominated profession, men make more than women. According to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, nationwide, male teachers earn $4,000 a year more than their female counterparts.
Recently, North Carolina lawmakers announced several different strategies to increase teacher compensation. One included asking teachers to trade tenure in exchange for pay raises. Another kept long-term teacher pay static while increasing starting salaries for those fresh out of college. In exchange for these proposed raises, the General Assembly has suggested eliminating teacher assistants, supply funds, and other educational necessities.
As teachers are asked to make due with less, pressure on them increases. Recent changes to the statewide curriculum mean classes spend more time preparing for and taking standardized tests than ever before. Funding for extracurriculars and the arts has waned, and performance incentives based on test scores are causing record numbers of North Carolina educators to flee the profession.
Since the 1800s, education has been an industry dominated by women. Historical reports vary, but often men performed physical labor and left women to the job of instruction. Today women still bear the brunt of child care, even in families where both parents work. A job that follows the school calendar and allows summers off seems like a natural choice for many women with children. But despite what some lawmakers seem to believe, teaching is not just babysitting, or a way to kill time for women who would otherwise be home folding laundry. A solid education can lay the foundation for lifelong success, and our teachers are the ones building that foundation.
Sarah Wiles, a teacher in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district with a Masters degree and six years of teaching experience, recently wrote to every member of the General Assembly, pointing out the hypocrisy in lawmakers’ rhetoric about education.
Wiles wrote: “I am so tired of being lied to about how important I am and how valuable I am. I am also sick and tired of politicians making my profession the center of attention and paying it lip-service by visiting a school, kneeling next to a child, shaking my hand and thanking me, telling the nightly news that I deserve a raise, and then proceeding to speak through the budget that I am not worth it.”
She received a reply from Senator David Curtis that scolded her for not appreciating how well she had it. Among his criticisms were that teachers do not appreciate the “generous” retirement plan that they apparently receive, nor do they experience a high cost of living.
Curtis’ letter clearly spells out the beliefs behind North Carolina’s regressive teacher pay policies: women should be grateful and shouldn’t complain.