Last week was conference time at my kids’ school, and boy did those teachers look tired. They’ve just finished the first quarter of the year, the kids are chock-full of Halloween candy, and now they have to spend an 8-hour day meeting with parents of somewhere between 20 and 30 precious snowflakes.
Teaching is a stressful, tiring job with few material rewards. It always has been. But all of a sudden, North Carolina is losing its educators at a historically high rate. Why?
According to a recent study by the state’s Department of Instruction, more than a third of recently-quit NC teachers did so because they couldn’t stand working in our state’s public schools for one more day. Dissatisfaction was one of the top reasons for teachers seeking to change careers.
It’s no wonder our teachers aren’t happy. We aren’t paying them enough. We’re limiting their political activities and speech. We are restricting their curricula. We’re expecting them to buy school supplies out of their own pockets. We’re passing laws that make it harder for their students to succeed.
Last year, 15% of NC teachers left their jobs. In 2010, that number was just 11%. Given the current economic environment and the relative scarcity of jobs, it speaks volumes that our teachers are willing to give up the relative safety of a school job for something uncertain and new.
North Carolina has one of the lowest rates of pay for teachers in the country. The General Assembly raised beginning teacher pay last year to make the state more competitive, but veteran educator salaries stay stagnant. This year, teachers — along with all state employees — received a one-time $750 bonus instead of a guaranteed pay raise.
The vast majority of public school teachers have Master’s degrees. This means they attended school for at least six years to get an average salary that’s less than a paralegal or the office’s IT gal. Nothing against these positions, but teachers work hard, give a lot, and — most important of all — educate the next generation of leaders, workers, and doers.
We must listen to the 2,700 teachers who left their schools last year because they are unhappy. They are harbingers of a trend that could become much, much worse. These teachers were the ones who had the resources to leave. Logically, we must assume there are thousands more who are now sitting behind their desks, planning their exit strategies, too burned out to focus fully on their students.
Start by joining your PTA, raising funds for your school, and donating supplies whenever possible. Next, thank you teachers. Let them know you love them and appreciate all they do. Reach out in small way, with notes or emails. After that, talk to your lawmakers. Attend School Board meetings. Write to your congressman. Those you elect need to know this is a top concern for you and your community. We can’t stand to lose one more unhappy teacher, and we certainly can’t keep making those who stay regret it.