Honor teachers by rewarding them

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It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and I encourage everyone, whether you have a child enrolled in school or not, to show your appreciation. We all depend on teachers to help prepare our youngest citizens to help contribute to our communities. Here’s what my team and I have been working on at your N.C. Department of Public Instruction to show our appreciation for North Carolina’s educators.

When I took office as state superintendent, I embarked on a statewide listening tour to hear directly from educators, parents, and community and business leaders. Now I am able to focus on priorities highlighted by teachers from Murphy to Manteo. I believe appreciating teachers means listening to their concerns and working to support them.

— Teacher pay: After years of decline, North Carolina is now one of the top states for fastest rising teacher salaries because we know pay is important. For too long, teacher pay withered in North Carolina, but now, teacher salaries have increased each of the last four years, outpacing inflation every year. In only a few short years, average teacher salaries have increased by double-digit percentages. And next school year, teachers will get another pay raise.

We are on the right track, and I am going to continue to work for raises for teachers.

— End over-testing: Most teachers are frustrated with all the time spent stressing over all the required tests instead of teaching. Local school district tests, state tests, and federal requirement tests: There are too many.

My team and I are taking steps to reform our testing system. We just completed two significant reviews of all testing across the state as well as the tests required by DPI, which will guide our work over the course of the next year to eliminate and streamline these tests.

— School calendars: Many teachers want their summer breaks protected. Teachers also wish we could find ways to end the first semester before winter break instead of in the middle of January. They teach for nearly a full semester but then send their students home for a two-week break before returning to finish a class.

The leaders of Cumberland County Schools have an innovative, new approach to this calendar challenge. By adding just a few minutes to each school day, Cumberland County Schools will be able to start school in late August but still end the first semester in December. We will be working closely with these local leaders to help share their innovative ideas across North Carolina.

— The teaching profession: Teachers want to be treated like professionals. That means professional training, appropriate facilities and resources, and recognition for going above and beyond their normal scope of work.

My team and I have taken a hard look at the $10 billion per year that goes to our education system.

When we found money meant for teachers not being used to support their work, we took action. Earlier this year, we provided each K-3 reading teacher with $200 for supplies for their classroom. We also just announced that money which previously fell through the bureaucratic cracks at DPI will be used to create high-quality, easy-to-access professional training to help all teachers in all grade levels support their students’ literacy needs.

Another aspect of professionalism lies in recognizing high-performing educators and asking them to take on advanced roles for higher pay. Programs rolling out around the state with funding provided by the legislature are helping us better reward teachers who take on the most challenging positions.

Everyone in North Carolina should be grateful for all our teachers do for our students. At the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, we are working hard to show our appreciation with actions, not just words and fanfare.

Our mission is to make teachers’ profession better every day. Whether it is better pay, eliminating over-testing and other drains on instructional time, providing the right tools to be more effective educators, or even providing the funds to build new schools in counties that can’t afford to replace aging infrastructure, we’re working for you because we appreciate the importance of your work.

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Mark Johnson is state superintendent of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Mark Johnson is state superintendent of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.