Diary of a Mad NC Teacher

Diary of a Mad NC Teacher
By: Ryan D. Daniels

Another school year is quickly approaching and I’m spending a fraction of my time preparing my lessons, another fraction of my time studying for the LSAT (again), and another fraction is spent on me revamping my résumé and submitting applications to jobs outside of teaching. 
No, it is not that I don’t like teaching. I actually love teaching, I love working with kids, and I love being able to have a positive impact in the lives of our future leaders. However, let’s talk about what I do not like and why I would quit my teaching job in a heartbeat if the option arose and I don’t care if people judge me for it. 
 I teach in North Carolina a state that has become notoriously anti-teacher and anti-education over the past few years. The NC State Legislature has passed legislation over the past few years that have made me scratch my head and ask, “Does NC even like teachers? Do they even need us?” Some of these actions have left me wondering why would anyone even want to teach in NC?

 In 2009, during my senior year of high school I was awarded an NC Teaching Fellows scholarship. The NC Teaching Fellows scholarship was a “full ride” scholarship to any of NC’s 16 public colleges or universities with the stipulation that the recipient teach in NC for at least four years after their college graduation. I declined the offer because at the time I didn’t see myself teaching...ever (let’s all laugh collectively). In 2011, the state legislature ended the program and began to use the Teach for America teaching corps program as the state’s main source of recruiting new teachers to the state. 

 NC Teaching Fellows was a good program and it pulled from in-state talent and for the most part those who applied were already going to school to be teachers so the program just worked and in my opinion made sense. But in the eyes of the state legislature it didn’t. But hey, life goes on. In 2014, the state legislature removed tenure rights for veteran teachers. However, the law was struck down in 2016 by the state supreme court. 

 I originally joined the teaching profession in 2014 after graduating college and that was when I realized how much this state does not care about its educators. In June of 2014, the state did away with “masters” pay, up until this point teachers would get a significant pay bump by receiving their masters in a field related to education. My question is why would you not want teachers with a greater level of education and understanding of pedagogy to be compensated for this work? NC was the first state in the nation to eliminate advanced degree pay incentives. So my original plan of getting my masters and teaching for at least five years quickly went out of the window. To the state’s credit teachers who get their national board certification can still get a decent pay bump but as I’m quickly finding out it’s not so simple. Technically a teacher can apply for their NBPTS after their third year of teaching most of the time it takes at least another year or two for the pay increase to take place. 

 Teacher pay, let’s talk about it. My first year teaching my gross pay was $33,000 and by the time Uncle Sam and my health insurances and over deductions took a bite out of my check my take home pay was a little over $1,500. Yes, $1,500 over 12 months; you do the math. And to add insult to injury I worked in one of the few districts in the state that did not supplement each teacher’s pay. Every month my check was gone in the blink of an eye and I do mean a blink.

 I couldn’t do it anymore and decided to leave the profession and go to law school. I left law school due to personal issues and came back to teaching in 2016. Teacher pay has increased somewhat since I originally left the profession but it’s still a slap in the face considering the amount of work teachers are asked and expected to do. 

 Recently, I was considering moving to the Triangle area and the first thing I did was look at the teacher pay versus the cost of housing. Taking my years of experience, plus my state base pay, and Wake County teacher pay supplement the rent for a decent place would still be 40% of my take home pay. I earnestly asked my Facebook friends who teach (especially less senior teachers) and live in the Triangle area, how exactly are they not living in a cardboard box? The answers were all the same: extra duties, part-time job(s), and roommates. One of my FB friends works two part time jobs in addition to her full time job as a teacher. 

 I shook my head as I read the answer. No one who went to college for four years, took at least two PRAXIS exams, and works to serve the future generations should have to bust their hump just to make ends meet. Teaching is a profession not a job, we have to be licensed to step into that classroom everyday and we had to go through rigorous testing to get that license. 

 Common sense would say you would want to compensate your teachers in such a way that a part time job is not a necessity for them to make ends meet. How can I be at my best and totally prepared to teach if as soon as I get off work I have to go start my shift at Target? 

 I’ll be the first to admit I never planned on becoming a teacher. However, I found my way into the classroom by accident when my after-graduation career plans fell through. However, I feel in love with it. But love and passion do not pay my bills or financially care for my daughter. 

 Because of NC’s teacher pay the state is currently hemorrhaging teachers who are either leaving the profession completely, moving to states that pay teachers better, or losing them to administrative positions. The wake up call for the state legislature should’ve been when the public school system of Houston, TX held a job fair for teachers in Raleigh in 2014. Another state came in and poached our teachers because of our sorry excuse of NC teacher pay. 

 The state even wants to take away pension and health benefits for teachers who came to the profession after 2015. You want me to teach for 30 years and then you don’t want to give me a pension or pay for my insurance once I retire? What about that even remotely sounds appealing? 

 Many people who are in education in this state move to other states who pay their teachers much better and this attrition rate should give the state legislature pause but apparently it hasn’t. Our newly elected governor, Roy Cooper called for a in my opinion modest 5% pay increase but the Republican-led state legislature fought fervently against this increase. The governor and the state house eventually split the baby and agreed to a 3.1% increase for 2017-2018 and a supposed, 9.3% increase for 2018-2019 but I will not be holding my breath for such a large pay increase. 

 Many schools are losing their best people in the classroom to the front office. Many people who want to stay in education but want to be adequately compensated are becoming school administrators, which in some cases is sad. Many people are great classroom leaders but this classroom leadership does not necessarily translate to the ability to lead a whole entire school. However, many teachers who just want to make a decent living make the job to administration even if it’s not truly where their passions lie. 

 As the school year draws nigh I am currently figuring out how I will get supplies needed for my students including supplies for labs. The money won’t be coming from my school because like most schools they don’t have it. It says a lot about education that many teachers have to resort to crowdfunding or in the extreme case of an Oklahoma teacher, panhandling on the street to get necessary supplies for our classrooms. 

 Last year my kids asked me I know at least 1000 times why we didn’t do more experiments. I told them that I was broke and I couldn’t afford them, period. But my personal financial situation should never be an issue in my ability to serve my kids because I shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to meet the needs of my students. 

 At the end of the day, I’ll say it one more time I love teaching. Yes, it is challenging but all jobs present their own unique challenges. However, teaching in NC adds so many additional and unnecessary challenges. Teachers in NC are constantly told that we are needed via the shouts of teacher shortages while we are simultaneously underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked. NC needs teachers and I need for the state to start acting like it! 

 Studies have shown that teachers who are well paid are much happier and have students with a much higher level of performance. Common sense should tell you that if you want to attract and retain quality teachers you would put in place incentives that would (gasp) attract and retain effective, competent, teachers who use the best practices of the profession. However, NC seemingly has made up its mind to run away its effective and impactful teachers. This is why I applaud the people with a teacher’s heart who have chosen to stick it out for the kids. I love my kids and I love their energy and I love being a part of their life even if only for a school year. But I have a child of my own and I’m currently sitting here trying to figure out how to buy her school uniforms and pay for dance lessons and still get supplies for my classroom.


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