Teacher appreciation is important the other 51 weeks of the year, too

BY HANNAH MCCLELLAN, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/5/21

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, which means lots of discounts, gifts and goodies for teachers around the country and in Chatham. After a year filled with COVID-19 challenges, this week brings …

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Teacher appreciation is important the other 51 weeks of the year, too

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Students work on individual assignments during a class at Northwood High School, which is currently operating under Plan A along with the district's other schools. Under that plan, 6-feet of social distance is not required, but masking is.
Students work on individual assignments during a class at Northwood High School, which is currently operating under Plan A along with the district's other schools. Under that plan, 6-feet of social distance is not required, but masking is.
Staff photo by Peyton Sickles
Posted

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, which means lots of discounts, gifts and goodies for teachers around the country and in Chatham. After a year filled with COVID-19 challenges, this week brings a much-needed reminder of how important teachers are.

Teacher Appreciation Week is the least we could do to thank school staff, but it’s also not nearly enough.

North Carolina ranks 33rd in the nation for teacher pay, according to an April 2021 report by the National Education Association, with average annual compensation of $54,150, well below the national average. The numbers are even more grim if you look at the average starting salary for teachers in N.C. — $37,049, 43rd in the nation.

Not to mention teachers are consistently expected to work overtime for a pay much lower than similarly demanding professions, such as lawyers or doctors. A school-day structure demands teachers work beyond the eight-hour work day, with most teachers having only one planning period and teaching the remaining seven hours. Grading assignments and tests, providing feedback or tutoring and planning for the next day are just the minimum responsibilities typically carried into the evening once the workday is supposedly over.

Over the last year, this workload has increased dramatically. In my reporting, I’ve talked with countless teachers who’ve greatly increased their working hours during remote learning. Even as Chatham County Schools offers four days of in-person instruction under Plan A, many teachers continue to teach Virtual Academy students remotely.

Despite this, teachers are often the last people to complain about their jobs. In part, that’s due to the fact that many teachers love to teach. In a profession centered on developing young people, this is a great thing. It can also lead to the unfair expectation that teachers martyr themselves for the sake of their students, as unfortunately was too often demonstrated this year.

You’d think we’d all be singing teachers’ praises after such a year, and to be sure, some are. Too often in my reporting, however, I’ve seen comments on social media or spoken to adults who depict teachers as lazy or pampered for their remote learning teaching methods, or for raising questions or concerns about the return to in-person learning.

It’s fun and good to celebrate teachers for a week, particularly after the year we’ve had. It also feels empty if we don’t appreciate teachers the rest of the year — particularly if the rest of the year includes name-calling and belittling of teachers who stand up for themselves as humans with very real and reasonable limitations.

“We’ll do what we have to do for our students,” one CCS teacher, Eliza Brinkley, told me in January prior to the district’s high schools moving to Plan B. “Our main point is: this is our workplace. If we were at a corporate company or another profession, I don’t know that we necessarily would be asked to risk our health, possibly.”

In Chatham, in-person learning continues to increase, which students, parents and teachers alike have heralded as a good thing — so long, most agree, as safety protocol remains in place and community COVID-19 cases remain low. As we hopefully continue to move toward normal, we must acknowledge and address that just as students suffered over the last year, so did teachers. We failed our teachers this year, and we will continue to do so until we work toward a culture and structures that consistently appreciate teachers.

Gov. Roy Cooper proposed a budget this year that includes a 10% raise for K-12 teachers over the next two years, as well as multiple bonuses — a meaningful proposal, but not yet acted on by state legislatures.

“North Carolina’s educators work tirelessly to teach and support our children, including through a pandemic, and they deserve our gratitude, admiration and respect,” Cooper said in a statement Monday. “Educators also deserve to be paid like the professionals they are. North Carolina must do better in teacher pay.”

Educators deserve to be paid — and treated and talked about — like the professionals they are. While a week of celebrating and thanking teachers is important, we must back up all the gifts and baked goods by striving toward systemic appreciation the other 51 weeks of the year.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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