Society’s Keystone Species: Part 2

This post is the second post in a multi-post blog about the conditions that teachers are faced with in North Carolina and what the life of the teacher in and beyond the class room is like. The first post (posted Monday, February 6th, 2017 under the title, “Society’s Keystone Species: Part 1”) in this blog illustrates the importance of the teacher to society by comparing them to bees being a keystone species in agriculture. It then discusses the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum Standards (CCCS) in the classroom and how teachers feel about its implementation.

Meet Lynn James. She is a mother to a D1 collegiate and Olympic Trials runner and to an aspiring engineer and has taught kindergarten in the public school system for nineteen years. She described her daily roles beyond lesson plans and instructional teaching. “I help with planning in-service professional development for other teachers in the school, observe and evaluate new teachers, mentor new and student teachers, lead school communities and input data on state websites.” If you’re wondering how teachers accomplish all of these tasks in a school day, rest assured – they’re not Super People. They don’t have some other-worldly time-management skills or the ability to time travel. They work outside of the school day and the school week. BBC News conducted a study on how many hours the average teacher works per week (link here). It was found that secondary teachers work approximately sixty-three hours per week and elementary school teachers work for fifty-nine. They are only in the classroom with children for thirty-five hours a week. This time demand (not compensated for in pay) takes away from relational time with friends and family.

Teachers who share the title of mother, wife and friend, find that this time detracts from having deep, meaningful friendships and makes it difficult to be a good mom and wife. Lynn sorrowfully described that, “When I went back to school years ago, I lost all my friendships because I no longer had time for entertainment or energy.” Jane had similar experiences as she has had to “tell friends ‘no’ we can’t go tonight; I have too much schoolwork to do.” Sara Falls, who taught me the importance of keystone species, explained that being busy means that “I’m not a good friend or girlfriend because I’m always stressed, tired and working – which makes me irritable and short with people.” The heartbreaking reality of the sacrifices teachers make is not often enough realized. Teachers don’t get the respect they deserve.

This disrespect factor is highlighted in teacher salaries. The 2016-2017 Fiscal Year report shows that in the state of North Carolina, a first year teacher with a Bachelor’s degree earns $35,000 (link here). QuikTrip Salaries displays that their average gas station employee earns an annual salary of $43,000 (link here). This is equivalent to a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree’s salary after thirteen and a half years or a teacher with a Master’s degree’s salary after eight years- if they were lucky enough to start before in 2014 when teachers still received additional pay for higher level degrees. The Fiscal Year reports N/A mark on the Master’s and Doctorate salaries appears more like a mocking epitaph reading “not appreciated” than a place holder for the salaries that teachers previously received. Many parents raise their children saying that education is the answer. They say that you’ll earn more than someone that works at McDonalds if you have a college degree. If you’re a teacher this is true, but you won’t earn more than a gas station employee.

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       Instead of taking the little time that these nourishers of knowledge have outside of attending to schoolwork to rest, most work second jobs to compensate for their meager wages. Lynn and Sara stated that most if not all of the single teachers that they know have a second job to afford the cost of living. It’s commonplace for teachers to wait tables on the weekend. It’s almost expected that they offer private tutoring. And they don’t have time to work these jobs. The demands on teachers have increased as their rewards have decreased. These creatures are expected to water between thirty and sixty students’ minds daily. The size of their classrooms have increased, which has decreased their ability to adequately nurture each pupil. Now they must try to meet the specific needs of more children in the same amount of time without assistance. In case you aren’t a bee or a teacher- it’s not possible to do this. At all.

Concerned, I asked Sara about why this is so. She explained that “Gov. Purdue, a former teacher, knew that teachers would stick around if increases in pay were halted because teachers do what they do for the kids, not for the money. That would be one way she could cut the budget at a time when we were in a recession.” Furthermore, teachers suffered in 2014 when Gov. McCrory “gave a big seven percent raise to our teacher” because “We need to pay our best and brightest teachers to keep them in the profession.” While this sounds like a victory, Sara revealed that “what the general public didn’t know was that the ‘average seven percent’ meant that people in their first five years of teaching got a fifteen percent raise, while teachers in their last five years got less than one percent. They took the longevity pay that teachers with ten plus years of experience received to help pay for the raises. The end result was that teachers who were close to retirement actually had a reduction in pay.”

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From npr.org

How did this affect the teacher population? “That year we lost many teachers to retirement who probably would have stayed a few more years.” This continued into a six year period with no pay raises and then, when they did receive a raise, it was less than that of a first year teacher’s. Additionally, the veteran teachers, who have put in the classroom time to “become good,” are responsible for training these new teachers who likely will not survive five years in the profession. Sara revealed that the only time she considered leaving the profession was after Gov. McCrory referred to the new teachers as the “best and brightest” and the ones worth investing in. The lack of respect drives some fantastic teachers, like her close friend Rob Bowers, to move to other states to receive it. One tangible form of this respect is a pay increase, such as the state of Georgia offering salaries approximately $10,000 higher than those found in North Carolina. In the scheme of things, it’s not much. But, it may make teaching without a second job possible.

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