It\’s Time for a Productive Conversation About Honoring Educator Professionalism

Regardless of the profession and above all else, employees want to feel respected and valued. How that respect and value is measured differs across the industry spectrum, but some common themes occur in all areas such as meaningful and productive work, adequate compensation and benefits, and a safe working environment with proper tools and technology.

There are only a few professions, however, where those issues are publicly discussed, debated, and decided, and public education is arguably chief among them. Many educators will argue how they are underpaid and undervalued, and some policymakers and public leaders will argue how teachers earn more than they’re worth and still ask for too much.

While both sides can make cases in support of their perspective, this argument doesn’t lead to a productive conversation about what it will take to recruit and retain the top talented and innovative educators to the public schools in North Carolina.

A productive conversation would focus on a few key questions.

  1. What methods should be used to recruit today’s students and potential career-changers to the teaching profession?
  2. Once those individuals are hired, what should the early-career induction phase consist of and how long should it last?
  3. What support and professional development is most important to cultivating talent and retaining the best innovators?
  4. How should compensation relate to an educator’s career ladder?
  5. What assurances are necessary to encourage educators to stay the course through their career span until retirement?
WCPSS teachers at Biogen Community Lab during SummerSTEM.

The answers to these questions are too complex to be hashed out here, but with some focused collaboration the answers could yield positive results.

Demand for highly qualified educators is rising sharply, and the number of eligible applicants isn’t keeping pace. There are committees to encourage recruitment, improve the pathway to licensure, and to retain the best teachers. Just this week, Gov. Roy Cooper called for an expansion of the revised NC Teaching Fellows program, which would pay the college tuition for students who became teachers for a minimum of four years after graduation. The state Department of Public Instruction and state Board of Education are reviewing their standards for initial licensure, qualifying examinations, inter-state reciprocity, and transitioning from one career into becoming a certified educator.

Getting enough highly qualified teachers in the door is only the first step. Keeping them on the job and ensuring they continue to aspire to innovation is another effort entirely. Pay is often the most-discussed component of retention, but there are other factors as well. Education is a relatively flat profession from an organizational standpoint. Most educators have a choice of being a teacher or administrator. There’s a growing sense among educators that education systems would benefit from having some tiers in between where teachers could hold leadership roles without becoming a principal or district-wide administrator. Additionally, the pathway to leadership should be clear, and the professional learning and certification necessary to become qualified should be available and affordable to every educator.

WCPSS teachers and Balfour Beatty staff at SummerSTEM.

Finally, as educators plan for retirement, it’s important to provide assurances on what retirement savings and benefits will be available to educators at the end of their public service.

While finding lasting and durable solutions to these issues will take months of study with input from various stakeholder groups, there are options available in the short term which will help improve the sense among educators that they are respected and valued.

  1. Increase teacher pay to the most-current national average but make this the floor and not the ceiling. Restore supplemental pay for teachers holding Master’s degrees.
  2. Revise the principal pay formula by permanently eliminating any salary reductions caused by the transition to the new program. Increase incentives for dynamic and effective school leaders to take positions at underperforming and challenging schools.
  3. Expand the NC Teaching Fellows program to include more educator preparation programs and invest in other recruitment initiatives such as the Wake Future Teachers and the Wake Teaching Fellows – University Cohort.
  4. Continue to improve the pathway to licensure by allowing interstate reciprocity and streamlining lateral entry for career-changers while maintaining a commitment to only approving highly qualified educators.
  5. Further expand and fund the pilot program for Advanced Teaching Rolesto give more school districts the ability to stratify their teaching corps into roles for grade-level, content, and pedagogical leadership.
  6. Invest in professional development for educators that has an emphasis on integrating workforce development into instruction and establishing public-private partnerships that support instruction and school improvement.

Investing in educators with proper compensation and professional development from their college years through their retirement years is a signal that they are respected and valued. It is one way to ensure that the most innovative and effective educators will remain in public education throughout their entire career and will continuously produce great results for our state’s schoolchildren.

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