The Transylvania Times -

Breaking Point?


April 12, 2018

Earlier this year, teachers in West Virginia went on a successful nine-day strike for better salaries. In recent weeks, teachers in Oklahoma have gone on strike and in Kentucky have protested in mass at their state capitols. Teacher strikes and protests are not unsual in states with strong teachers’ unions, which is what makes these actions noteworthy – they are occurring in conservative states where teachers often have been acquiescent.

So what is driving teachers to the breaking point, where they see no other option but to protest, walk out or strike?

“We’re at the nadir for the teaching profession,” Linda Darling-Hammond, CEO of the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) and professor emeritus at Stanford University, told NBC News.

One of the primary forces driving the teacher protests is low pay. Many teachers in the aforementioned states, as well as North Carolina and others, have another job besides teaching. In many states, teachers bring home around $2,000 a month, which is not bad until compared to salaries of other college graduates. According to the LPI, teachers earn 30 percent less than other educated employees.

Even people who have jobs that require just a two-year degree or high school diploma pay more than what some teachers receive. As Craig Horn, a Republican who heads the state House committee on education, said, “I’m very much aware that lots of jobs which we used to consider menial pay more than we pay teachers. That’s just wrong.”

Since the turn of the century, and particularly the Great Recession, teachers have seen their pay, adjusted for inflation, reduced. After adjusting for inflation, in North Carolina teacher pay has decreased 12 percent since 2000. The economy has recovered, but teacher pay has not.

In addition to pay, teachers also have seen other benefits, from retirement to health insurance to compensation for advanced degrees, slashed.

But teachers are not just protesting over their salary and benefits. They are also protesting over the shabby conditions of their schools, the lack of supplies and lack of support. Many students attend schools where the heating does not work or the roofs leak; where the chairs are broken and there are not enough supplies. This is true in North Carolina. In this county, retired teachers operate a school supply closet so that classroom teachers do not have to use their own money to purchase necessary supplies for students.

This decrease in spending on students is reflected in the fact that, adjusted for inflation, North Carolina spends about $475 less per student than when the Great Recession began.

The results of these cuts is that more people are leaving the teaching profession and fewer people are entering it. The attrition rate for teachers in the United States is approximately twice that of most Western countries. And it’s worse for states or counties in which adjacent states or counties pay higher salaries.

The breaking point is fast approaching because there are fewer people entering the profession. According to NBC News, nationwide enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped nearly 40 percent, from 680,000 in 2010 to 420,000 in 2014. To alleviate that shortfall, some states have greatly loosened the requirements to become a teacher and have accepted students from programs like Teach for America, in which recent college graduates can take a summer course to become a teacher. But their numbers, too, are dwindling. The number of students from that program who actually teach dropped from 5,800 in 2014 to 3,500 in 2017.

As a result, many school systems are unable to find people to fill vacant positions, and those systems that used to have a wide selection of prospective teachers now only have a handful.

While Horn says teachers should be paid more, he also advocates tying their salaries to test scores as a way “to have our teachers be better teachers.”

Another way, and one that is statistically supported, would be to pay teachers more so that more qualified people are attracted to enter and remain in the field.

Countries and people pay for what they value. If we continue to pay teachers less and fail to provide a sound physical structure with the necessary materials for students, then we will fall even further behind other countries to the point we may never catch up. Teachers in many states believe we are reaching that breaking point.


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