Teachers change lives. They serve as mentors and role models; they encourage and motivate; and they help their students learn a thing or two. In fact, research shows that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. According to a RAND (rand.org) article on teacher effectiveness, “When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.”
Another article from Edutopia (edutoptia.org) backs this up: “Compared to any other aspect of schooling, teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement. A well-trained teacher is likely to send more students to college, and can boost a class’s lifetime income by $250,000.”
I’m sure everyone reading this article can think of at least one teacher who saw your potential, boosted your self esteem or led you on your career path. And chances are, the respect you have for that teacher had little to do with test scores. The takeaway from the Edutopia article is that “teachers who improve students’ noncognitive skills also improve long-term outcomes that include their odds of graduating from high school.”
Unfortunately, as we all know, teachers are not compensated near enough for their efforts, especially in North Carolina which has some of the least competitive salaries in the nation. In addition, the elimination of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program in 2012; career status aka “tenure” and salary supplements for teachers with a master’s degree in 2013; and longevity pay in 2014 (NC Policy Watch), have made teaching in our state even less enticing. The long-term effects of COVID and the Critical Race Theory debate also compound teacher shortages.
As the state of North Carolina does not provide the necessary funds to ensure nationally recommended staffing levels, school districts are left to their own devices to attract and retain quality teachers. Chatham County Schools is fortunate to have both a Board of Education and Board of Commissioners on its side. To that end, CCS has implemented an incentive program as part of its One Chatham strategic plan that Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson calls the 4Rs: Recruit, recognize, retain and reward. CCS’s recruitment signing bonus initiative provides signing bonuses of $3,500 for licensed staff and $1,500 for classified staff; teachers going above and beyond each year are recognized with a stipend; and teachers who remain in the district are rewarded with a retention bonus of $3,500. Current employees who recruit candidates to the district are also eligible for up to $1,000 once a referred candidate is hired.
In March, CCS learned it would be part of a UNC School of Education program funded by a $3 million investment aimed to remove barriers for educators to serve students in rural, high-needs North Carolina communities. The program will provide tuition and travel support for students to intern and learn from Chatham and Person County teachers and counselors, and once graduated, those new teachers and counselors will return to the rural schools with paid professional development and bonuses.
In more good news, the 2022 biannual Teacher Working Conditions Survey reported that 91.63 percent of CCS teachers say the district is a good place to work. CCS teachers also fared well in NCDPI’s accountability report for 2021-22, the first since the pandemic, with 93 percent meeting or exceeding growth.
While these are all steps in the right direction, we, as parents and community members, need to continue to advocate for North Carolina’s children, especially as the Leandro Case is being stalled yet again. This is despite a Nov. 24, 2022, N.C. Supreme Court ruling for the transfer of funds to support a sound, basic education for all students attending our state’s public schools as mandated by our constitution. If CCS were to receive its share of funds, it could not only provide higher salaries for our teachers but also pay for much needed teacher assistants, professional development and school support staff. Please consider calling or writing to our state representatives: Senator Phil Berger, Representative Tim Moore and State Controller Nels Roseland. Tell them to uphold our state constitution and release the needed funds to provide all students with an adequate and equitable education.
A simple thank you to your child’s teacher also goes a long way. As the second week in May is National Teacher Appreciation month, now is a great time to get out those note cards and jot down a few words of gratitude for your kids’ overworked and underpaid teachers. Better yet suggested former teacher Beth Shaver in an EdNC.org article, write a letter or send an email to the teacher’s principal letting them know about the wonderful job they are doing. “Small tokens of a job well done often make a bigger impact than you might believe,” she wrote.
*First published in Briar Chapel Magazine, May 2023