Walk-in or walk-out. Call it what you want. For Tucker Creek Middle School teacher Chadwick Howard, low teacher pay means one thing, a second job.
Howard was among many North Carolina teachers wearing red on Monday to protest actions by the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory on issues of pay, tenure and budget cuts that they say hurt the state’s schools.
Howard, for instance, left school Monday to go to his second job, one he has taken up to make ends meet because he said his low teacher salary won’t pay the bills.
“I have to go to the convention center to work until 1 a.m. at my second job, which I worked until 1 a.m. last night, and I’ll do the same thing on Tuesday night and Wednesday night, working the Marine balls, because I haven’t had a pay increase in six years and everything else has increased,” Howard said.
Howard said he is doing what has to be done as a teacher to make ends meet.
“Many of us are having to take up second jobs or third jobs, and that takes away from what we do here sometimes,” Chadwick said. “It’s not fair at all.
“When I talked to the legislators a couple of years ago when Bev Perdue was in office, they always said that she was the problem and once she was out of office, things would change, but things definitely didn’t change for us teachers. They said they would do more for teachers and work harder for teachers, the Republican legislators that I talked to, and that isn’t what happened when they took control of the Senate and the House, in my opinion.”
Without the ability to strike, teachers banded together Monday after school in what was called a walk-in. Tucker Creek Assistant Principal Shawn McCarthy said having teachers walk out of class would have been impractical.
“Our first duty is to educate the children and in order to do that we have to be here with the children in our classroom,” he said. “So, we all agreed that while there are laws and decisions that have been passed and made that we don’t agree with, the children should not suffer because of those decisions and our dislike of those decisions, so we’re going to come and do our jobs and find another way to voice our opinion that the decisions aren’t necessarily what’s best for business and what’s best for kids. Let’s try to find another way to do what needs to be done without putting it on the backs of kids.”
McCarthy said legislators need to go to teachers to find out how their decisions impact students.
“If you’ve never been in the classroom or have never been an educator then you might not know,” he said. “For instance, I’ve never been a doctor, so I shouldn’t be making health care laws because I don’t have that expertise.”
Tucker Creek teachers made a bulletin board in which they could anonymously express their concerns without fear of reprisal. Included in the concerns was removal of tenure and merit pay. Legislators also dropped bonus pay for future teachers with master’s degrees and removed the cap on class sizes. Teachers also complained about the loss of work days and pay for teacher assistants.
Teachers said Monday that qualified educators were walking away from the career or choosing to work in other states where teacher pay is better.
North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation with an average teacher salary of $45,947 compared to the national average of $55,418, according to the National Association of Educators. Over the past decade, North Carolina has had a 15.7 percent decrease in salaries when adjusted for inflation, the largest decrease in the country, according to the NEA.
North Carolina ranks 28th in the country for starting teacher salaries at $30,779, about $5,000 less than the national average of $35,672, according to the NEA.
The teachers said they want what’s best for students, which is the best education system and pride in their schools with the best teachers teaching them. They want the best textbook materials and the most advanced technology.
Teachers said legislative action this spring and summer affects services to students. They said merit pay creates divisions in the staff, which, in turn, affects morale.
Daniel Edward Rapp, who has taught science and math for 13 years at Tucker Creek, said walking out on the students was not going to happen, even though the teachers needed to make a point.
“We do want to represent our concerns about the apparent lack of respect for the teaching position and the job we’re trying to do for these students,” he said. “Everybody makes statements about how we need to do more to improve education, but it’s kind of hard to do more and more with less and less.”
He said teachers are particularly concerned about the loss of tenure because, like anybody, job security is important.
“The way they’ve set things up it’s beginning to take away some of the incentives to work together because it’s making it competitive for the incentive pay,” Rapp said. “As a faculty, we want to work together. We think that’s one of our strengths. The best of my knowledge, everybody here wants to continue doing that, but if you’re going to get $5,000 more than somebody else in four years if you promote yourself rather than help your neighbor, it’s human nature and you might think to do that, so we want to continue what we’re doing.
“We would like the state to support teachers, and students and parents with the resources to do the job and not make it look like there’s a lack of confidence in us or what we’re trying to do.”
McCarthy said legislators need to welcome comments from real teachers.
“We would look forward to sitting down with them and talking about what they want versus what we think is realistic and finding that compromise,” McCarthy said.