I am writing this letter because I am a public school teacher who is proud to teach in North Carolina Public Schools, and I care a great deal about some of the bills you have proposed. I have taught public school for six years and in those six years, I have worked in three schools in two states and three counties. Given the diversity of the communities in which I have taught, I feel I have a rather broad perspective of what it means to teach in public schools. Teaching in public schools has taught me a lot of things, but one of the most important is that every child, regardless of their economic, racial, or educational background, deserves the best, most qualified teacher teaching them each day. It appears that some of your proposed bills (SB 374 and SB 402) have a rather different implication.
Like many of you, I love my job, and I go to work each day expecting to give my best. Not only do I expect my best, but my students expect my best. My students’ parents expect my best. My principals expect my best. My question is, why do you not expect my best? Here’s what I mean, and here’s why I’m writing. Some of the legislation that you have proposed will not expect the best from teachers, and I think these are dangerous choices. In case you’ve forgotten:
1.You want to expect teachers to teach a potentially unlimited number of students with no teacher’s assistant (SB374, sections 2.1b and 2.2a), while still ensuring all students will read on grade level by the end of third grade (SB795).
2. You want to grade schools based on their student population, even though you would never word it this way (SB402, section 8.13b).
3. You want to eliminate salary increases for teachers who have worked hard to earn a master’s degree (SB402, section 8.22), even though teachers are already severely underpaid.
In response to your proposals, my questions are these: Do you think these decisions send a positive message about education? Do you think these ideas make teachers feel valued? And do you think teachers who do not feel valued will go to work every day willing to do their best? Do you think that student achievement will improve if teachers do not feel inspired to do their best? I certainly don’t think so because I have read the research on the correlation between job satisfaction and performance. Perhaps you should read it too.
The students we are teaching in public schools, just like the students who are being taught in the charter schools many of you support, cannot afford for their great teachers to lose motivation to do their best. They deserve our best. Period. They need teachers who are dedicated, ambitious, willing, and persistent. One of the ways teachers show this ambition is by earning a master’s degree, a topic of one of your proposals that happens to be most insulting to me. You see, earning a master’s degree means you have studied more content, read more research, and had more academic conversations
with other enthusiastic learners. Students will greatly benefit from teachers who have had these experiences. Wouldn’t you want that from your child’s teacher? But let me guess what you might say about this idea: There is not research to show that having a master’s degree “makes” better teachers or increases students’ test scores. Well, maybe you’re right, but here’s what I say: I have a master’s degree, and I am without a doubt a better teacher because of it. Sure, there is not a way to prove that my classroom results are caused by, or even correlated with, my graduate degree. However, talk to my principals and my graduate professors. You can even talk to the parents of the students in my class. I guarantee you that they will say that my master’s degree has benefited me and as a result has benefited my students. Why would you not value, and at the very least recognize, that this is the case?
In case you are unsure why this idea is so insulting to teachers, let me ask you this: In what other profession are people not rewarded for having additional education in their field? If you are an attorney, for example, you would expect your pay to reflect your three years of additional schooling. You would be insulted to be paid the same as a paralegal who does not have similar credentials. But again, let me guess what you might say: Not everyone can be a lawyer. It takes a specialized skill-set. It is hard work that not “just anyone” can do. Well, you’re right. My husband is an attorney,
so I know how right you are. But I guess that means you think “just anyone” can be an effective teacher. I couldn’t disagree more. When will we begin to consider teaching as important as other professions? One way is for our state’s leaders to make proposals that support and respect teachers, rather than devalue and insult them.
I will close by asking you to put yourself in a teacher’s shoes. Teachers already work long hours despite being underpaid. Add to that your ideas to increase class size, eliminate teacher’s assistants, and remove master’s pay. If these bills pass, my fear is that experienced teachers will leave for a profession that recognizes their value, and young people with great potential will choose a field that rewards their ambition. This should be your fear as well. You see, one of the things I learned in graduate school is that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in increasing
student achievement. If your goal really is to make our public schools excellent (as SB 795 is titled), you should demand that the most qualified teachers are teaching your state’s children. Please consider if your proposals will actually help attract and retain the most qualified teachers. I urge you to think about the impact of these decisions on the 1.5 million public school students and teachers in your state. Please consider this. We need your support.