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Perspective | Supporting teachers so they can support students

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The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the October 1, 2023 episode of Education Matters on Regional Teachers of the Year. 

As I’ve said many times, teachers are the number-one school-related factor influencing student outcomes. Teachers have the immense responsibility of preparing our children to be educated and well-equipped community members. This is not a task that should be taken lightly, but unfortunately, teaching is often thankless work. However, our regional Teachers of the Year represent the outstanding work being done by educators across our state and demonstrate the passion and commitment teachers have for shaping a bright future for their students.

Despite varying grade levels and subject areas, each of our regional Teachers of the Year plays a vital role in their students’ lives and it is clear that they approach those roles with care and intention. From finding innovative ways to make sure students understand class content, to helping students discover their passions and future career paths, they are able that have long-lasting positive impacts. These are the kinds of highly effective educators North Carolina needs. Unfortunately, as a state, we are not doing our part to continue to foster this kind of talent in teachers. 

We can already see the effects of continued disinvestment in public education, and the issue will only worsen if we continue down this path. North Carolina had approximately 3,500 vacant teaching positions this fall and many more positions filled by teachers who are not fully licensed. The Forum has asked teachers on numerous occasions what could be done to improve recruitment and retention, and better pay is almost always given as an answer; in response, reinstating master’s pay and raising salaries across the board by 24.5% to reach the national average is one of our Top Education Issues. However, the raises included in the General Assembly’s budget are less than one-third of that at an average of 7% over a two-year period. The budget also does not reinstate master’s pay. 

In addition to needing better compensation, teachers also need the necessary resources to do their jobs. North Carolina was ranked last in the country in education funding effort in a 2022 report. This means teachers must come out of pocket, get creative, or completely forgo tools for instructions in many cases. We cannot continue to provide classrooms with the bare minimum resources and then expect stellar test scores. Public education is an investment, but is there a more worthy investment than one in the future of our children and communities?

Teachers need our support because students need theirs. It is truly that simple. If North Carolina intends to continue to thrive as a state, we must prepare our children to do so. By providing teachers the compensation, resources and respect they are entitled to as professionals, we give them the tools needed to build up each child. Our Regional Teachers of the Year represent all the amazing work being done in our classrooms today, as well as the desire to do even more if given the opportunity and capacity. With that kind of drive and talent in teachers across our state, North Carolina doesn’t have to only be a top state for business — we could also be a top state for education.

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.