A national shame

Can you name the teacher whose positive influence has helped you the most in your life’s journey? Faced with this question, most of us can quickly identify at least one whose wisdom, affection and support has made a big difference in our lives. I can think of several, but one in particular stands out. Teachers rank right up there with loving parents on my scale of life’s wisest, most loving, most important life guides.

My dear bride and I both began our educational journeys in public schools, hers in Maine, mine in Maryland, Baltimore, to be specific. Our three daughters attended public schools in Florida at first, then in North Carolina, where we have lived for the past 40 years. Wonderful teachers prepared them well for excellent college and university degrees and respectable careers in banking, the clergy and education.

Yes, education. Our youngest daughter and her husband both teach school, serving on the faculty of a fine middle school in Georgia. They moved there several years ago from North Carolina, significantly increasing their salaries. In 2017, Georgia paid its public school teachers $54,602 a year on average. That’s 24th on our nation’s scale on average teacher salaries. North Carolina, in 2017 ranked 35th, pays it teachers $49, 837 on average. Highest teacher salaries can be found in New York, California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., where their paychecks reach well into the 70 thousands per year. Salaries are lowest in Mississippi, where the average last year was $42,925. Oklahoma and West Virginia were only slightly higher.

The figures, released by the National Education Association, represent the average gross salary before deductions for things such as Social Security, retirement and insurance and do not take into account cost-of-living differences among the states. America’s political leaders never have placed a high value on teachers, the most important people in our children’s education. Why is that?

Today, teachers are speaking out. Well, some of them are. Margie Riedell, who teaches in an elementary school in Clayton, N.C., was quoted in the NEA report on salaries. “Teachers are afraid to speak up, they’re afraid for their jobs, they’re afraid to talk about how low our pay is, and they’re embarrassed because they don’t want parents to know how sad our paychecks are,” she said. “There are so many teachers who have left the profession that are amazing teachers, and that’s sad to me because the children are missing out.”

All Americans are, I would add.

“You are talking about people who have dedicated their lives – dedicated their lives – to teaching children, and you’re telling them, after they reached 25 years of experience, they’re not worth any more,” Riedell said.

When you write or phone your legislator about this, remember that teacher who did so much to launch you on your life journey and now must work two or three jobs to put food on the table.




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