Pam Lilley, a school library media specialist in Cornelius, NC, created a blog last summer to document the mass exodus of North Carolina teachers resulting from frozen salaries and recent policy changes such as the elimination of teacher tenure.
“Obviously, most teachers don’t go out in a blaze of glory like this and instead leave quietly, not to burn any bridges in case the situation ever does improve here,” Lilley wrote in an open letter to state Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph). “But for those brave teachers willing to speak up about why they were leaving, I wanted to create something of a time capsule to the period in which we find ourselves.”
Here are some excerpts from the letters posted on the site, ResignNC:
“The fact of the matter is that teachers have student loans, bills and families. I cannot count the number of times we have lamented the 20th of the month because we get paid on the 25th and no one has gas money. We borrow from our elementary aged children’s birthday stash to fill our gas tanks. We joke that pasta and butter are the staple in the house, but there is a cruel seriousness to it. We cancel doctor appointments because we can’t afford the co-pays. And this is NOT just the lament of new teacher on an unjustified pay scale. We are veteran teachers.” – Aimi
“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 wouldnever be able to afford to be a teacher in this state.” – Anonymous
“‘I feel guilty,’ said Gable, who is quitting his job on November 26 and leaving his beloved Asheville for a more promising financial future teaching in Columbus, Ohio. There, he figures he’ll make close to $30,000 more than his current salary, which is $38,000 for ten years’ experience and a master’s degree.” – Chris Gable
From Lilley’s open letter to Sen. Tillman:
Recently, I began thinking about how much this moratorium on teacher pay is costing teachers out of their paychecks. I appreciate that people such as yourself are trying to come up with a system that you believe teachers such as myself (accomplished/distinguished) will prefer because there is the opportunity to earn more. I saw from Mr. Baxter’s presentation last week at the task force (via Twitter) that the current salary schedule is over 100 years old. Indeed, something that old justifies a closer examination of its relevance to the profession of teaching in the 21st century. The question I keep coming back to is this: if we were to poll every school’s “teacher of the year” or those teachers who got the highest performance evaluation at each school, what would they say? Obviously, they’re the ones who stand most to benefit from a new pay structure that recognizes and rewards their work. Yet, I am friends with hundreds (literally) of teachers, many of whom HAVE been teachers of the year at their school and nobody is interested in a model that pays some teachers more than others based on performance and it boils down to the argument I’m sure you’ve heard before: effective school-wide teaching depends on collaboration. When only so many teachers or a certain percentage of teachers can qualify for the higher pay, that creates a competitive atmosphere. And if the state were to say that there are no caps and that any teacher who meets or exceeds a proscribed set of criteria gets additional pay, it’s quite likely we would see a replay of the ABC bonuses wherein the criteria was met but the money wasn’t there. And that gets to the core of the issue: just as legislators clearly do not trust us to do our jobs, we do not trust them to pay what is promised. You can see this playing out now with the 25% contracts. Only the first year of the 4-year contract bonuses are funded. Teachers do not trust that the money will be there beyond that. (Though, obviously, our concerns about those contracts run deeper than the lack of funding).
In the meantime, teachers are making less many than they did 5 years ago. In fact, I took the time to create a blog post about this a few weeks ago and it’s generated quite a bit of traffic so far: resignnc.org/five-steps-back I wanted to share it with you. I am a teacher with 14 years of experience. I have a master’s degree (required for my position) and national board certification (an experience which truly did make me a better teacher). I am making $2560 less than a teacher with my EXACT credentials did in 2008. Over the past five years, I have lost a total of approximately $15,000. That’s the cost of a new economy car. That’s a year and a half of tuition at my son’s preschool. That would pay for 4 years of the Duke TIP camps that my daughter qualifies for but cannot attend because we can’t afford it.
I recognize that these numbers are based on the salary schedule that you and others feel is antiquated but right now it’s the only pay structure we have. And it’s the salary schedule we agreed to when we signed our contracts years ago. We have held up our end of the bargain but the state has not. We recognize that in 2008 the state entered a deep recession and when our pay was frozen the first year, most of us were grateful not to have been furloughed. But this year when the state cut revenue that could have been used to help teachers in order to instead help the wealthy and corporations, the trust between teachers and legislators hit an all-time low. And that is why any proposal for a hastily-prepared new salary structure will not be well-received by teachers: we have lost faith that the legislators are doing what’s best for us or for our students. What would it take to open our minds and hearts to something new? An act of good faith on part of the state to restore our step increases and get our base pay up to the national average. Then we will know their money is where their mouth is when they say they value education.
Until then, I will continue to collect resignation letters and hope that enough qualified teachers remain to prepare my own children for the future.
Teachers Speak Volumes – Open Letter to Senator Tillman