Teacher Turnover in NC Dropped Slightly. But Don’t Pat Yourself on the Back GOP.

Crowds fill Bicentennial Plaza outside of the North Carolina Legislative Building during the March for Students and Rally for Respect on May 16, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

By Kim Mackey

December 11, 2020

A NC educator says the modest drop in teacher turnover happened despite Republican lawmakers, not because of them.

The latest talking point from North Carolina’s GOP claims Republican education policies have led to a better teacher attrition rate.  

In a report at the conservative Carolina Journal, Terry Stoops, an advocate with the John Locke Foundation, touted the change from 7.59% attrition to 7.53%  as a “testament to the work of the Republican General Assembly, which has tried to make teacher recruitment and retention a priority.” 

Way to pat yourselves on the back for an infinitesimal .06% change.  

Based on how the General Assembly calculates school performance grades, growth only counts as 20% of the score.  Even a student forced to take an in-person standardized math test during a pandemic these next few weeks can tell you a .06% change is nothing to celebrate.  And remember, you all count proficiency as 80% of the score — high teacher attrition does not make one proficient in retaining teachers.

Actions speak louder than words and recruitment and retention has not been a priority based on policies enacted by the NCGA under Republican reign this past decade.  It’s not partisan to say that – it’s history and math. 

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If fewer teachers are leaving, it is because many who were going to jump ship have already left.  Turnover rates reached recent highs during the first few years of Republican control of the General Assembly.  Not having higher turnover is a testament to the dedication of teachers who have stayed because they cannot bring themselves to follow suit with Republicans in the NCGA and turn their backs on their students.

Folks don’t tend to leave jobs during economic uncertainty.  During the last recession, teacher turnover in NC also dropped temporarily.  That’s why, as a teacher and a mother, I’m bracing myself for another round of post-recession attrition. 

Consider also that folks who have been hanging on for the last ten years had to be disappointed by the recent election, which returned GOP majorities to the state House and Senate.

So many colleagues gone

I’ve lost many great colleagues since the GOP’s majority takeover of the NCGA.  I wish they stayed so my children could have them as teachers.  They left to teach in other states because they didn’t want their second job to be advocating for their first job, believing it would fall on deaf ears, believing it would be an exercise in futility.  

They also didn’t want to have second jobs to cover the cost of their growing families so they brought their teaching talent to better-paying states.  

Some stayed in North Carolina but left the classroom for jobs that paid better, treated them as professionals and weren’t subject to the whims of politicians.  Despite higher pay and more trust, none of them say their current job is more difficult than teaching.

READ MORE: Incoming NC Schools Superintendent Catherine Truitt: Testing Decision Is Out Of My Hands

I also work with colleagues who began their teaching careers in rural NC counties but relocated to teach in Wake County. It’s not mystery why. Wake, which operates the largest school system in NC, has increased its local salary supplement to compensate for the state’s failure to offer a competitive base salary

Poorer counties, those with a more modest tax base, don’t have that option. Still, many local county commissions have taken to doing the General Assembly’s job in trying to attract and hang on to teachers in their communities by offering up more local funds to close the gap.  They deserve credit for stopping some of the bleeding.

I wanted to be a social studies teacher since I was in the seventh grade.  When my first teaching job was teaching seventh grade social studies, it felt like I fulfilled my destiny. 

When the Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2011 and began gutting support for public schools, I wondered if teaching in North Carolina truly was my destiny.  So I dipped my toe into exploring teaching in a different state and looked for jobs outside the classroom.  I almost joined others leaving the classrooms we love. 

But when the North Carolina Association of Educators — a teacher union that I’ve since joined — won a lawsuit to protect due process rights for those who had already received them, the case influenced the decision to grandfather advanced degree pay. I ended my job search. There were others it seemed who didn’t want to take it sitting down. 

It’s no wonder one of the first steps of the NC GOP takeover in 2011 included eliminating payroll deduction for NCAE dues. Collective bargaining isn’t allowed for educators in NC, but the organization had been relentlessly critical of lawmakers, and the move weakened the organization standing in its way of dismantling public schools.  They were so committed to that mission that they schemed to override the governor’s veto of the bill.

NCAE won their lawsuit challenging the removal of payroll deduction for dues because the judge ruled the policy “retaliatory” action taken by the General Assembly.  If any group is to be credited with teachers like me staying in the classroom, it is NCAE, not the NCGA. 

My family supports me as a teacher, yet they still attempt the exercise in futility suggesting that I should explore other options.  When I had my children, I had to pay hundreds of dollars to cover the cost of a substitute during my maternity leave.  I have lost more than $64,000 in purchasing power compared to the salary schedule “I signed up for” in 2007. 

Aside from hitting my bank account, lack of support from the state affects my family life.  I manage huge student caseloads with less student support positions, and frequent curriculum and course design changes.  I also spend countless hours trying to inform and motivate others to advocate for better support for our public school students.  

Advocating for one’s first job should not be anyone’s second job. 

We can’t turn our backs on our kids

Nevertheless teachers like me persist – not because we like what we see, but because we can’t turn our backs on our students.

It was disappointing to see North Carolinians continue to allow representatives to remain in office who gerrymandered their way to power and used that power to undermine public schools.  

The NC GOP retains power over drawing representatives’ districts with new census data.  I worry they’ll pull the same gerrymandering with “surgical precision” nonsense this decade as they did the last.  This will enable them to preserve their majority in the NCGA despite receiving a minority of statewide votes — hardly upholding the democratic principle of majority rule — and education policy that supports our public schools will likely remain an uphill battle.

But I’m a fighter for the sake of my children, my students and the profession I was called to serve.

Teacher pay plays a role in giving teachers pause before jumping ship, but not for the reasons the NC GOP would have you think.  The pay scale takes advantage of veteran teachers’ proximity to receiving stronger pension benefits by flattening their pay after fifteen years of service. 

Some veteran teachers are hanging on because the system has been designed to trade their last years of pay for the experience milestone that secures better pension benefits.  Saying educators and state employees should just be thankful for a pension ignores the fact that a pension was something they “signed up for” when joining state service.  They didn’t “sign up for” average 10% pay cuts, when adjusted for inflation, since the Republican takeover of the General Assembly.  They’re abusing the relationship.

I stay in this profession because I love to teach and I love my students.  Teaching is a calling.  I despise the bombardment of policies that undermine my profession made by those who have never done my job. 

I stay because I love my two young children in the early stages of their K-12 experience.

If teachers like me leave, who will be left to teach my babies?


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