We must appreciate and elevate educators

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May 6-10 is Teacher Appreciation week, and I ask all North Carolinians to join me in thanking our hard-working educators. We are fortunate to have them. As state superintendent of North Carolina’s K-12 public schools, I believe that every student should be able to go to school, work hard, and reach their American Dream. And if we want all students to succeed, we must have great teachers and school leaders.

Our goal is for North Carolina to be the best state for learning and the best state for teaching. We have more than 100,000 educators supporting more than 1.5 million students in more than 2,500 schools. They work hard for our students, and the most important way state leaders can show our appreciation is to work hard for them in Raleigh.

North Carolina has come a long way on teacher pay in the last decade, and especially the past few years. When I entered office, North Carolina was 41st in the nation in teacher pay. Now, we are 29th. More importantly, we are second in the Southeast in teacher pay — and I am working with state leaders to get us to No. 1.

Teaching is a great profession to get into in North Carolina, and we need to encourage young people to consider it as a career path. For those who want to get a four-year degree, teaching makes a lot of sense financially. The average salary for a beginning teacher in North Carolina is $39,300 per school year, much higher than the $26,400 per year that the average college student makes one year after graduating from a UNC system college with a bachelor’s degree. In-state students can attend a UNC school and become a teacher for only $1,000 per year in tuition, or for free with educator scholarships. (Visit www.northcarolina.edu/wepromise and www.ncteachingfellows.com to learn more.)

Teaching in North Carolina also offers career growth. According to state data and the U.S. Census Bureau, the median teacher salary per school year is now more than the median household income per year and is also more than the median salary of someone with a four-year degree as their highest education level.

Compensation, though, is not the most important aspect of a career. Teaching is one of the most fulfilling careers: where else, besides parenting or preaching, can you make such an impact? Teachers have critical roles in our communities, and they truly change lives.

Nine out of 10 North Carolina teachers say that their school is a good place to work and learn. I am joining with other educators, community and business leaders tell the great story about the where we are in the teaching profession with facts (visit NCsuperintendent.com/teach).

We continue our work in Raleigh to increase funding for classroom supplies, textbooks, and compensation as well as reduce testing and other burdens on teachers. We will continue to be a voice for educators as we work with leaders in Raleigh and around the state.

Mark Johnson is the elected superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools. After teaching school in Charlotte and serving on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, he now lives in Raleigh with his wife and their daughter, who started kindergarten in August.

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