This letter came from Stuart Egan, one of North Carolina’s National Board Certified Teachers. The state has more NBCTs than any other, and almost the lowest salaries of any state. Egan responded to Senator David Curtis’s letter brushing off science tea her Sarah Wiles.
Stuart Egan writes:
I am a high school teacher from Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools.
On Monday, May 12, I read an article on WUNC’s website that published a letter (response) written by Sen. David Curtis to a young teacher in the Charlotte area. It can be found on the following link: http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#.U3F64LlKCEE.email. It deserves a public response.
Dear Senator Curtis,
I have given your email response to Ms. Sarah Wiles’s letter entitled “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher” much thought, and I am embarrassed that you represent our state with such an attitude as was displayed. You are right: Teachers do have an incredible influence on students, However, your response only highlighted the uninformed, and, quite frankly, pompous stance that many in the NC legislature have adopted toward public education.
It is obvious that you were blessed to have great teachers in your life to enable you to achieve all that you talk about on your website, davidcurtisforncsenate.com. Think of all those teachers who helped you in elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate school and medical school. Clearly, they instilled in you a love of learning that has carried you throughout your life. Your life also seems to center around your faith, which probably was influenced by Sunday school teachers, pastors who went to schools and seminaries, and by the teachings of the greatest of teachers – Jesus Christ.
My concern is that your North Carolina constituents are “picking up on your (negative) attitude” toward the teaching profession. Since you naturally want the support of teachers in the next election cycle, here are my suggestions for what you could investigate and consider. I simply took your original itemized remarks from your “imaginary conversation with a private sector employer” and responded to them.
1. “You (Ms. Wiles) expect to make a lot more than you made as a teacher because everyone knows how poorly compensated teachers are.” Of course any teacher who makes a move to the private sector would expect more monetary compensation. Almost every other profession that requires a similar level of education and training as the teaching profession makes more monetarily than a teacher.
2. “You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher.” You mistake eight weeks of vacation with what is actually unemployment. Teachers have 10-month contracts. What you call “vacation” is actually unpaid time that is spent getting renewed certification, professional development, or advanced degrees—all of which are paid with teachers’ own money that gets taxed by the state. Until recently, the only way teachers can get a pay increase is to fund their own advanced education. But even that is no longer the case because of a crusade led by Pat McCrory and Thom Tillis to eliminate advanced-degree pay increases. Would you expect those who get their MBAs or MDs to forego the expected increase in salary? Of course not. Yet many of NC’s legislators seem appalled that teachers would expect the same.
3. “You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old.” It is ironic that you talk about retirement plans for teachers, especially to younger professionals in education. Our retirement is tied to our salary. By law, we have to pay into the system. And don’t misunderstand me; I am grateful to have that. But when my pay stays frozen, my contribution to retirement stays frozen as well. As prices climb and as inflation exerts its influence, what I may get decades down the road probably will not support me and my family. Considering my age, I may not have the Social Security benefits that you will enjoy. In fact, the way it works now is that I pay into a system that will benefit you before I see any return in my own life. It is also ironic that you, too, will receive retirement pay from the state as a legislator, but have much more say about your state pension than I get with mine. If you need reminding, simply reference the following article:http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/02/26/1884711/amid-retirements-state-lawmakers.html.
4. “Your potential employer may tell you that he has heard that most North Carolina workers make less than the national average because we are a low cost-of-living- state, private sector workers making 87% of the national average and teachers making 85% of the national average.” You imply that low teacher salaries are justifiable because of low cost-of-living expenses; however, that logic does not hold water unless you can prove that the cost of living has frozen in North Carolina. It would help to study the relationship of consumer indexes and teacher salaries for NC and the surrounding states. Furthermore, if you want to attract more industry and business to North Carolina, you need to convince companies that their employees’ families will have a good education system and a quality of life based on their productivity and company success instead of the state’s cost of living.
5. “The teachers union has convinced parents that teachers are grossly undercompensated based on a flawed teachers union survey of teacher pay. “ Where is a teacher union in North Carolina? Are you referring to NCAE? That’s not a union; that’s an association. If you want to see how a teachers’ union works, go to Chicago and New York City. Now, those are unions.
Whether you are in Denver, NC, or Denver, CO, you need to understand investing in teacher pay is not to quench some thirst for greed. It is needed to keep the best and most experienced teachers here in North Carolina, teaching our students because those students are the biggest investment we have. Many of them go on to be successful private sector employers. Your website devotes a great deal of space explaining the importance you place on family-centered values. I think the vast majority of NC families believe their children – who are the future of this state – are valuable enough to make teacher pay attractive to the best educators, regardless of the cost of living.
And last, whether you intended it or not, the tone in your response to Ms. Wiles came across as condescending and patronizing. It was not a tone or attitude you would want to witness in a classroom, and it certainly is not an attitude North Carolinians want to witness in their legislators.
Stuart A. Egan, MAEd., Ed. S., NBCT
West Forsyth High School English Teacher
10-month employee, 12-month educator