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Raising Our Teachers' Salaries Will Show That We Respect Them

Governor McCrory has made a half-hearted attempt at supporting a salary increase for North Carolina's public school teachers. Unlike many other issues, teacher pay does not garner much publicity, which explains why the governor's heart is not in this fight. More importantly, this particular issue will probably not provide him with the kind of political capital he will need for re-election. Herein lies one of the bigger problems facing our state's educators; teacher pay is not a topic that gets the voters excited. If it was, you can bet that most of our state's political leaders would be campaigning on its behalf.

Why is it important to increase the salaries of our teachers? First and foremost, it has to do with credibility. People associate the value and importance of a profession by its salary scale. It is hard to convince anyone to seek a profession that does not have the respect of the general public. Unfortunately, the teaching profession has been losing the public's respect since the 1960s which happens to coincide with the comparative decline in our students' academic achievement levels.

Why should our best and brightest high school students seek to enter the teaching profession if they know that they will not be afforded appropriate status within their community? Many of my college students who want to be teachers tell me stories about family and friends who try to talk them out of their decision. Their prevailing arguments are that teachers are not appreciated by the public, have to work long hours, and do not earn enough for a respectable quality of life. Teachers in North Carolina have received one insignificant pay increase in the past five years, and if the governor has his way the salary of entry level teachers will increase but the experienced ones will be no better off.

Salaries essentially reflect society's attitude about a job or profession - they give it credibility. Obviously, our public employees' wages are often dependent on state and local budgets, which are essentially tied to taxes; and no one likes a tax increase. However, if we value our educational system then we need highly qualified teachers, and the only way to convince our best and brightest to be teachers is to show them respect - which, at a minimum, translates into a professional salary.

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