How NC pay affects current, future teachers

ahelms@charlotteobserver.comMay 3, 2014 

Hanging on for now

Peter Huxtable, a science teacher at Alexander Graham Middle School and single father of a 5-year-old, doesn’t have much free time.

To make ends meet, he tutors a student, grades portfolios for college education majors and works for TEACH Charlotte, a group that recruits for the profession. In that role, he gets questions about teaching here.

“I say North Carolina has made some very bad mistakes with regard to teaching, but I have faith that it’s going to get better,” says Huxtable, 31, a third-year teacher. “I try to be frank with them, but I try to share hope, too.”

He thinks the governor’s plan to boost early-career pay is a good start, but he worries about being able to stick with the work he loves.

“I’m going full throttle from 5 o’clock in the morning till 11 at night,” he says. “I don’t know how long I can do that.”

Starting out worried

When Donielle Huggins was 5, her parents got her a teacher kit and a doctor kit. Even then, she says, she preferred the toy chalk board and grade book.

Now 21, she’ll graduate from UNC Charlotte’s College of Education on Saturday. She’d love to return to her hometown of Raleigh to teach English.

But she’d make just over $35,000 a year and couldn’t expect a raise for another five years on the current pay schedule. She says she interviewed at a Texas school where starting pay is $50,000.

State leaders may boost North Carolina starting pay this year. But throughout her college career Huggins has heard troublesome things about teaching in North Carolina.

“Overall I feel like it’s gone downhill,” she said. “I feel like there’s a general lack of respect for teachers.”

Yearning for relief

At one point Aprill Yakubu, a teacher at East Mecklenburg High, and her husband, who works in a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools after-school program, had seven jobs between them.

CMS paid a $3,000 recruitment bonus to get Yakubu when she was teaching in Dubai. She has the skills to teach Chinese, social studies, world history and Bible history. She also teaches at Johnson C. Smith University.

Being fluent in Chinese not only makes her valuable to a school with an International Baccalaureate program, but it also makes her desirable in the private job market. She loves teaching, but with 13 years’ experience and a master’s degree, her salary is less than $49,000 a year. And that makes it tough to support two preschool children, she says.

Yakubu, 40, will be eligible for an extra $500 a year if she’s among the 25 percent chosen for a four-year contract that replaces tenure. But she calls that “almost a slap in the face.” She notes that North Carolina’s teacher pay falls $10,000 below the national average.

How would her life be different if she were making $10,000 a year more? She pauses, and her voice quivers.

“I could probably actually go on vacation with my kids,” she says.

And suddenly she is sobbing.

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