It’s time to focus on paying your teachers, North Carolina


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Oakland Unified School District students and teachers carry signs as they picket outside of Oakland Technical High School on February 21, 2019 in Oakland, California. Nearly 3,000 teachers in Oakland have gone on strike and are demanding a 12 percent retroactive raise.

Darius Melton, Opinion Editor

Teacher strikes have been abundant across the United States in recent months, with incidents taking place in cities such as Los Angeles, Denver, and Oakland, all since the start of 2019. In each of these cases, issues with compensation and funding were noted as one reason for the strike starting.

Low teacher-compensation is an issue that North Carolinians can definitely relate to. North Carolina has been notorious for having issues paying teachers in the past, and as of April 2018, the state ranks 37th in average teacher pay, $9,600 under the national average. The same report also showed that the state ranked 39th in spending per student, $2,400 under the national average here.

The issue with rankings, however, is that even if North Carolina was in ninth place, if states one-through-eight are underpaid as well, being compared to other states wouldn’t matter. If we just compare North Carolina teachers to other college-educated workers within the state, average teacher wages are only 65% of the pay that those with a similar amount of schooling receive.

College is expensive, but one of the things that keep people coming to schools like UNC Wilmington is the hope that, once they get out, the money they make from their post-college profession will be enough to support them and pay all of that money back. Ask any education major here at UNCW, though, and that hope gets a bit faded.

As a sophomore majoring in education here at UNCW, Alessandra Mantovani has plenty worries about future job prospects here in North Carolina.

“I’ve been considering moving out of NC when I get my teaching license to work elsewhere just because it’s really not worth it,” Mantovani said, “which sucks because I would like to help any kids and teach them, but it makes it hard for me to be able to support myself. If I can’t support myself and my family, then how will I be able to do it for my students?”

I’ve heard multiple future-teachers express their intention to leave North Carolina after they get their degrees, which is interesting given the common argument that teacher pay isn’t an issue in the state since the cost of living is lower here than in other states.

Though it’s true that the average cost of living is lower here than in most states, this argument fails to take into account the reasons why the cost of living is so much lower – most cities in North Carolina aren’t all that attractive. As an article by NC Policy Watch puts it, the cost of living is higher in Raleigh than Beulaville, but since Raleigh has a lot of amenities (nightlife, restaurants, more job opportunities), a low-paying job in the big city is more attractive than a job with the same pay in a smaller town.

North Carolina is not overflowing with Raleigh-like cities, but better-paying jobs in the less-attractive cities soften the blow of having to live there and might stop education majors from fleeing the entire southeastern United States as soon as they get their degrees (as the bordering states of Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee take up spots 34 through 36 on the average teacher pay list too).

Paying teachers better may also drive up competition in the field so that those being paid better are truly the best possible teachers. On a personal level, I remember my dream of becoming a teacher dying a bit when I was seven-years-old because I realized that my computer teacher had to have a second job working at the mall to survive. Ten years later, my sociology teacher had to work three jobs to be stable, and she lived alone at the time.

Most kids don’t dream of having a bunch of side jobs as an adult, so when that idea gets merged with the concept of being a teacher, pursuit of that particular career path will decrease. Why are teachers in North Carolina stuck with the same stereotypical “starving” image as arts majors when their duty is to help shape the minds of our next generation?

Teachers’ wages in North Carolina has been rising in the past few years, moving up from an average of $49,837 reported in 2017 to an estimated $50,861 the following year (though, ironically, the state’s national ranking decreased from 35th to 37th between these two years, further explaining why the rankings themselves aren’t indicative of the whole problem), but there’s no reason to stop progressing now.

North Carolina’s General Assembly met on Jan. 9, 2019, for the legislative long session, and as per usual, the topic of education budgets has already come up. Let’s hope that those in charge take action to get North Carolina out of the southeastern U.S. bubble and bring us up to, or even past, the national average of $60,483.