Kafkateach has been very, very busy lately. Like “fall off the face of the earth” busy. Between moving three small children twice in the last three months and starting a new teaching job, then quitting (I’ll get to that in a moment) I haven’t had much time for blogging let alone eating, drinking water or even going to the bathroom. Yes, I’ve been so busy lately I almost contemplated wearing adult diapers to save time going to the bathroom. I packed and unpacked so many cardboard boxes that my body broke out in a mysterious rash. Turns out I may be allergic to moving. I accepted a teaching position in Charlotte despite my better instincts because if I didn’t start teaching in 2013 I would never be paid for my Master’s degree in the state of North Carolina. Turns out teaching in the Charlotte Mecklenburg school district (CMS for short but also referred to as C-a-MESS by the locals) is so horrific I’ve decided to retire from teaching for the moment. I wrote the following opinion piece about my reasons for resigning and I’m running it in my blog just in case nobody else wants to run (ah…the beauty of having your own blog!):
Who Will Teach the Children? A Letter from a Florida Teacher to the Citizens of North Carolina
I was a teacher in Florida for ten years. My teaching career in North Carolina barely lasted a month. I did not decide to resign from my position because of horrific student behavior or abusive administrators. Quite the opposite, I was lucky enough to get a teaching position at a wonderful school with an amazingly supportive staff and sweet students. I resigned because I could not afford to be a teacher in North Carolina and recent laws passed by the Legislature made it clear that I would never be able to afford to be a teacher in this state.
We moved to North Carolina for my husband’s job. Despite having the struggle of moving long distance with a six-month old baby, a three year old and a five year old, I decided to accept a teaching position because of recent legislation passed that eliminated pay for Master’s degrees. If I didn’t start teaching in the 2013 school year, I would never be paid for my Master’s degree in the state of North Carolina. I worked hard for my Master’s degree, spent money on my Master’s degree, felt that it made me a better teacher and I needed the few extra hundred dollars a month to justify working with three small children.
I knew the North Carolina Legislature had recently dropped the hatchet on teachers. North Carolina suffers from the same toxic legislative combination as Florida. They both received Race to the Top funds from the Obama administration, which require states to revamp their teacher evaluation systems and implement performance pay, and they both have Republican Governors with a Republican majority Legislature. Both states have used the opportunity to strip teachers of any form of job security or rights to increased pay. North Carolina’s “merit pay” system is particularly absurd, stingy and mean spirited. Under Senate Bill 402, only 25% of teachers will be eligible for a four-year contract and a $500 raise. http://www.ncleg.net/sessions/2013/bills/senate/pdf/s402v7.pdf (p.96). Previously, teachers automatically earned step increases of $500-$1,000 for earned years of experience. It wasn’t a huge sum of money, and recently those step increases have not be granted in years because of budgetary constraints, but their existence gave teachers some hope of one day earning a salary that didn’t qualify them for food stamps. Under the new system, only 25% of teachers will receive the measly $500 raise in exchange for giving up career status. I can only hope the North Carolina Legislature was actually trying to create a disincentive for teachers to give up tenure. In Washington D.C. the price tag for the “give up all rights to job security” bonus money is $20,000 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/10/AR2010091006604.html. For the state of North Carolina to only offer $500 to 25% of teachers is laughable if not utterly insulting. And what about the other 75% of teachers? Even if they are deemed effective educators they will still have to win the North Carolina version of “The Hunger Games” to receive even a small increase in pay.
One thing stood out to me as I stood in line in the unseasonably cold rain for three hours waiting to be fingerprinted and drug tested on orientation day for my new district (does any other profession treat its new hires like a herd of convicted felons?). Out of all the other new teachers I conversed with, none of them were from North Carolina. They were from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. They came from states that were losing population, which also meant losing teaching positions. They were also young. Fresh out of college no teaching experience, young. Not only did I feel out of place because of I was wearing tropical attire and flip flops in the sixty degree pouring rain (my warm clothes were still on the moving truck), but I felt old. I felt like a parent standing in the keg line at a party on frat row. Young teachers can bring a lot of energy and innovative ideas to schools but they also lack experience and despite what politicians will tell you, experience matters in education. It took me three years to feel comfortable in the classroom and I can tell you that my last lesson of the day always flows smoother than the first lesson of the day because over time I learned how to tweak and iron out the quirks. Does the state of North Carolina want it schools entirely staffed by twenty year olds? Sure they can live off the low salaries by having roommates and working night shifts as waiters and bartenders. But one day they too will grow up and have families and realize that a teacher salary doesn’t cut it in the real world. North Carolina may have been blessed with a favorable climate, beautiful mountains and beaches. But what will happen when the economy improves and the older teachers in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania retire freeing up teaching positions for young teachers in their own states?
Despite loving my profession, my school and my students, I decided to resign after only one month. After state taxes and a 6% pension contribution (Florida has no state income tax and a 3% pension contribution was only recently imposed), I found that my paycheck was barely enough to cover the cost of my child care expenses. The fact is that the majority of teachers in this country are women. The fact is that majority of these female teachers will one day go on to become mothers. The fact is that current teacher salaries in North Carolina are so low that they do not cover the cost of daycare for more than one child. The fact is that most of these female teachers who become mothers, despite having a talent and a love for the profession, may find, as I did, that they cannot afford to be teachers in this state. As a mother of three young children who are just entering the public school system, I am left to wonder who will be left to teach the children of North Carolina?