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NC is No. 1 in top teachers, but it needs more of them

This is the time of year when North Carolinians pay a lot of attention to national rankings – especially in basketball. And our top college teams have been “Number One” regularly – with Carolina and Duke recent NCAA national champions. (And Wolfpack fans still remember the “glory days” of David Thompson and the Cardiac Pack.) We are rightly proud when we’re first and believe it’s where North Carolina should be.

Well, there’s another place where North Carolina is first. We are the first state in having the largest number of teachers who have achieved National Board Certification since it was created – 21,460 of them.

These teachers are tops in their field. They have demonstrated their excellence in the classroom, and studies show they are less likely to leave the profession.

Our State Legislators – both Republicans and Democrats – are staunch supporters of teachers who seek this credential and earn the title of National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). Even in lean times, our General Assembly has maintained a 12 percent salary increase for them each year.

If you don’t know one of these teachers, find one. Watch her or him teach. Ask about the high standards she had to meet and the rigorous testing process he had to complete to earn the distinction of NBCT and what is required to maintain it. That we have supported this program and the teachers in it should be a source of pride for all North Carolinians.

How do we build on this success and also develop more programs to support our teachers? NBCTs can be leaders in their schools and districts. They can mentor new teachers and those who need extra help. They can go to high-needs districts to encourage teachers to go through the Certification process. They can write curriculum, lead professional development programs, and lead outreach programs in their communities. They can serve as ancillary faculty at our teacher education programs. They can share videotapes of their teaching to show aspiring teachers what excellent teaching looks like.

NBCTs are in nearly every district of our state. A high percentage of them teach at Title I schools. Still, our neediest schools and districts need more of them. How do we get them there? We can grow them within those schools and districts. Our legislators might consider paying the application fee for teachers who agree to go through the process and remain in that high-needs school or district for a specified length of time. We might pay the fee for teachers to seek Certification in areas of high need – reading, math, science, exceptional needs. We might provide stipends to NBCTs who will support Certification candidates in districts that need more mentors.

A recent News and Observer editorial pointed out that our Tar Heel teachers have succeeded despite some obstacles. How can we remove those barriers in order to keep our teachers and attract new ones? We can improve working conditions for teachers. We can provide them with adequate teaching materials and supplies. We are so fortunate to have good teachers all across our state. We can show our appreciation by giving them the time to teach. We can and should provide them teacher assistants, especially in the first three grades. Teacher assistants not only aid students but also free teachers to focus on lesson planning and communication with parents.

And we can listen to our teachers. When I was Governor, I held town meetings with teachers across the state. Our legislators might consider hosting town meetings in their districts. In my decades of working on behalf of the teaching profession, I found that the teachers themselves, if given the opportunity, will set the highest standards and will offer the most innovative and practical ideas for improving our schools. Our legislative leaders could invite outstanding teachers to sit in on education committee meetings and to share ideas. Furthermore, listening shows our respect for our teachers and the hard work they do.

As excitement builds for another ‘number one’ national ranking in basketball this year, this is a good time to aim for greater excellence in all of North Carolina’s schools and to commit the public resources to achieve it.

Editor’s note: This was originally published in the News & Observer. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

James Hunt

Jim Hunt served four terms as governor of North Carolina and was the founding chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.