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Perspective | Improving North Carolina’s teacher working conditions

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The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the February 3, 2024 episode about teacher working conditions in North Carolina.

My mom was a kindergarten teacher, a reading teacher, and a director of pre-k for a large school district. I not only had the benefit of growing up in a home with my own personal teacher, but I also observed her work environments, students, and impact over the years. I realize I am biased, but my mom was an exceptional teacher — making sure that every student left her class reading and feeling like they belonged. My mom loved being a teacher and had a deep understanding of what teachers need to be effective.

Like all professionals, teachers deserve to have workplaces where they feel valued, respected and empowered to do their job to the best of their ability. As we at the Public School Forum often share, teachers are the number one school-related factor in student outcomes and each teacher has the potential to impact hundreds of children throughout their career. We place high expectations on those educators to prepare their students for the future, but as a state, we have oftentimes failed to give them the resources needed to meet those expectations. 

North Carolina is currently in the unique position of being a top state for business, but a bottom state for effort in investing in education. This is not sustainable. In order for North Carolina to continue to thrive, we have to prioritize education and the best way to do that is to listen to educators and give them the support they need to help their students be successful. The Teacher Working Conditions Survey that will launch in March is an important way to gather their input.

As you may have seen in your local schools, North Carolina has experienced teacher vacancies across grades and subject areas — and perhaps, more significantly, teaching roles filled with non-certified teachers in recent years. When speaking to teachers, it is clear that supportive working conditions go a long way in combatting this issue. High morale among educators translates to a more stable teaching workforce, stronger recruitment, and improved student outcomes.

Even when teachers choose to stay in their positions, the feeling of being undervalued can still diminish their impact in the classroom. Motivated and satisfied teachers are able to create much more productive learning environments. When educators are enthusiastic about their profession, it translates into engaging and inspiring lessons which creates a positive atmosphere, contributing to increased student participation and interest in a subject.

Adequate resources and infrastructure are also essential for effective teaching. Allocating resources for building maintenance, professional development, modern teaching tools, and updated curriculum materials allows teachers to be equipped with the necessary tools to deliver a high-quality education in a safe learning environment. When we fail to provide our schools with these resources we make teachers’ jobs more difficult and place North Carolina’s children at a disadvantage in comparison to states where education is a priority. 

Investing in favorable working conditions for teachers is an investment in the overall health of our state’s public education system, and we can’t afford to not make those investments. In 2022, the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey received a 91.96 percent response rate which means the teachers are willing to tell us what they need, but we need to be willing to listen and act. The survey has been revised for 2024, creating the potential that this year we’ll receive even more insight into what we can do to help North Carolina’s teachers better serve their students. We cannot let pride, politics or anything else squander this opportunity to give our educators and schools what they need. Every child deserves a teacher like my mom.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.