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Where do you see yourself in five years?

I renewed my National Boards in April, and hoped to convince a handful of new teachers to take the journey towards certification next year. My district coordinator and I bemoaned the lack of middle school teachers willing to start the process, even with the new submission extensions.

National Board Certification was never a question for me. I started the portfolio the month after I finished my masters degree, and worked on an AIG Certification at the same time. The goal was laser focused: to become an expert in my content area and to acquire as much knowledge as I could in order to translate that mastery into my classroom.

And so my recruitment process began a few weeks ago.

At the last faculty meeting, I offered advice, summer mentorship in certificate areas, and a 24/7 direct pity line to two National Board teachers. No one was buying it.

They told me it was “too much work for the money” and that the “upfront costs were not feasible.” They told me: “It works for you because of the master’s degree. Without masters pay, it’s not worth the time. And there is no career advancement for being certified. We work two jobs.This would be one more burden.”

The math teacher, that rare creature that is so difficult to locate in North Carolina, offered: “In two years, I can double my salary as a novice accountant. No more work than I do now, for twice the money.”

This year in my 7th grade PLC, we compared grades, discussed EOG dates, and planned the requisite end-of-year trips to occupy students the last few days of school. But another conversation seems to have crept up among the newest teachers. I hear it as I pass classrooms and I catch pieces of it at lunch: how to pay for graduate school as undergraduate loans come due, planning for alternate careers beyond the classroom, interview protocols and salary comparisons by state.

The science teacher truly wishes to finish his masters degree in sports management so he can leave by the end of 2019. He is biding his time, taking classes at night at a furious pace. And the exceptional children’s specialist realizes that, with a new baby on the way, the time has come to return to her home state where the starting salary is higher than what she presently makes after three years in North Carolina. Another, with a masters degree in curriculum and instruction, sees no future as she manages a monthly loan deduction that exceeds her new car payment.

Three years ago, when these candidates interviewed, they were the best and brightest the UNC College System had to offer us. They came highly recommended, they interviewed with ease, and they were genuine in their desire to affect student lives. What changed them, and what changed their ideals of a long career in education?

These are dedicated professionals who entered college education programs determined to be teachers. Most came from families where the art of  teaching was handed down like a relic, from generation to generation. The science teacher comes from a family of four siblings, all in education.

But these millennials are also realists, and as they marry and attempt to buy homes while paying off mountainous student debt, they have become disenchanted with a bottom line that does not match the carefully coordinated lesson plans that bridged content areas they wrote as capstone projects while student teaching. Or whether the outcome is even worth the effort in the long haul.

North Carolina currently ranks 37th in the nation for teacher pay, according to updated National Education Association report for 2018. Among the 12 states in the Southeast, North Carolina ranks sixth. In the past 15 years that I have been teaching, North Carolina teachers have seen average salary increase anywhere from zero to more than eight percent. The budget of 2013 ended master’s level pay for teachers who were not currently enrolled in a program at that time.

Currently, N.C. continues to lead the nation in the number of teachers who have achieved certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, with 21,500 (21.60 percent) of NBCT’s. The question becomes, “How much longer can North Carolina claim this?”  

The next closest state ranking is South Carolina with 17.96 percent of its teachers certified. Only four states — North Carolina, South Caroline, Washington, and Mississippi — have double-digit percentages. Each of those states pay teachers a bonus for compensation of at least $3,500. Thirteen states provide no compensation or assistance, and those have less than 1 percent of their education force certified.

What I rely on every day in my classroom is certainly not the basic education classes I finished for my teaching license. Rather, it was the painstaking, diligent study of my content area as I joined peers in pursuing a masters degree in education. There were 12 in my school’s cohort, a group dedicated to advancing content knowledge, a group striving for better ways of delivering instruction beyond the six-point lesson plan that was already outdated.

National Board Certification forced me to examine my teaching practice three years into my North Carolina career, ensuring that what I did each class was insightful, relevant, and meaningful. My question for each lesson became: “How will this impact learning?” I raised my teaching standards as a result of these courses and certifications, and my students benefited from my acquired pedagogy.

What will raise the standard for the next generation of North Carolina’s teachers? Without masters degrees, the content area experts will dissipate as those teachers like me retire in the next few years. As for the National Board Certified teachers, will they continue to flourish, holding N.C. education to the highest standards?

The basic interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” needs to be reconsidered. If we want to keep the best and brightest, we need to find a way to engage them the same way we engage our students.

Linda Myers
Linda Myers is a middle school English/Language Arts teacher with 15 years of teaching experience in NC. She holds a Masters Degree in Language and Literacy and is National Board Certified in Language and Literacy. She uses literature in her classroom to help her students make sense of the world around them, and to inspire them to look inward. Her best days involve learning from her students as they see things she has missed in life.