Category Archives: Compensation

How Much is Experience Worth?

After missing their budget deadline by nearly three full months, the North Carolina Legislature just released new salary schedules for the 2015-2016 school year.  I’ve been poking through them today — you can find them posted online here — and tinkering with the numbers.

Here are some general observations:

A first year teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree will be paid $35,000 by the State of North Carolina this year*.  A teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and 25 years of experience will be paid $50,000 by the State of North Carolina this year.

Back-of-the-napkin math, then, makes one year of experience worth $600.

North Carolina provides a 10% stipend for earning a Master’s Degree and a 12% stipend for earning National Board Certification.  Both programs reward teachers for investing extra time into honing their craft and developing skills that can help them to become more effective instructors.  They are real opportunities for teachers to raise their own salaries.

North Carolina will pay teachers with 25 years of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification $61,000 this year.

Those numbers and a bit of back-of-the-napkin math makes one year of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification worth $1,040.

(*Note: The numbers cited here include only the portion of teacher salaries paid by the State of North Carolina.  Local municipalities can — and often do — add supplements on top of that base salary.  Those supplements vary greatly, however, from county to county.)


So what does this all mean?  I have no real idea.  Do other professionals see similar rates of salary growth over time?  Is making $15,000 more per year after spending 25 years in a field reasonable — or are people with significant experience in comparable professions (nurses, managers, police officers, firefighters) making significantly more at the end of their careers than they do on day one?

One of the things that I do know is that I’ve spent my entire career in North Carolina’s classrooms — and I’ve had my Master’s Degree and National Board Certification for 20 of my 23 years.  That has made it possible for me to say in the classroom — but I can’t say that I’m financially comfortable by any means.

In fact, I often wonder if I made the right choice when I decided to stay in the classroom.  I see the homes that the friends that I grew up with are living in, the salaries that they are making, and the cars that they are driving and I feel cheated because their families have opportunities that I cannot provide for my own.  I am — without exception — earning thousands of dollars less per year than everyone that I grew up with.  I’m also the only guy still working part-time jobs to make ends meet.


But here’s the thing:  None of those friends are filling the exact same role that they were filling on the first day of their careers.  They started as Sales Representatives and then began climbing the corporate ladder — moving steadily into Sales Manager, Regional Manager, and Corporate Trainer roles.  Or they moved from Associate to Partner positions.  Or they started as beat cops before becoming Sergeants and Detectives and Chiefs.

There is no corporate ladder for teachers, and while my experience is undeniably valuable — providing me with pedagogical expertise that makes it possible to effectively respond to the thousands of different circumstances that influence learning every day — my work is fundamentally no different than it was on the first day of my career.

My friends aren’t luckier than I am — and they sure as hell don’t work harder than I do.  They just pursued opportunities to advance in their professions — and each advancement came with a salary bump.  There ARE NO opportunities to advance available for classroom teachers.  You either teach and accept the stagnant salary growth that comes with that decision or you leave teaching.


So maybe my beef isn’t with the salary that I’m paid or the value placed on a year’s worth of experience in my state after all.  Maybe my beef is with the fact that education provides no real opportunities to remain a teacher while simultaneously accepting new professional responsibilities.

It’s education’s glass ceiling all over again — and it hasn’t changed in a hundred years.



Related Radical Reads:

Still Tired of Education’s Glass Ceiling

A Hapless Search for Organizational Juice

I Made $54,000 Last Year


Fruity Umbrella Drinks and Giant Jugs of Coppertone.

Cranky Blogger’s Warning:  I’m wound up, y’all.  That means this post is heavy on the Radical and light on the Tempered.  There’s enough truth in it, though, that I wanted to share it with you.  Just remember that I was straight riled when I wrote it.  


I blew a gasket yesterday.  A neighbor read my recent post about my salary and slipped comfortably into a rant about teachers and how easy our jobs are and how he’s sick of hearing us complain given that we work from 8 until 3 and have three months off every summer.


So I uncorked.  Like spittle flying from the corners of my mouth uncorked.  Like “Holy Smokes, THAT guy is angry” uncorked.  Like I don’t think he’s sending me any more Christmas cards uncorked.


What dudeman doesn’t understand is that I DON’T HAVE A THREE MONTH VACATION.  Instead, I spend all of that legendary “free time” that teachers get working part-time jobs.

Need proof?  Read this.  Better yet, stop by the dirty McDonalds near my house RIGHT NOW.  It’s a snow day and I’m grinding through a bunch of tasks on my part-time to do list as we speak.  I’ll buy you a two-pack of cookies and you can hang out with the teenagers smoking eCigarettes in the booth behind me.  Be prepared for the smell of sewage, though.  The toilets in the mens room are kind of janky.


Nowadays, my part-time jobs are mostly professional gigs.  I write books for teachers, deliver professional development and consult with schools, districts and companies across North America.  It’s good work that challenges me and pays well, but it ain’t easy.  Most of the time, that work involves sitting behind a computer screen trying to translate good ideas into solid instructional practices or traveling to schools and districts to show other teachers how to integrate those practices into their work.

But over the past 22 years, I’ve done more than my fair share of grunt work, too.  I’ve stocked shelves at grocery stores, I’ve manned the register at gas stations, I’ve worked the counter at bookstores, I’ve driven school busses for after school programs and summer camps, I’ve been the on-ice skate guard at the local ice rink, and I’ve worked for a landscaping company.


Sure, I have more vacation days than my neighbors and friends working in more traditional professions.  But the notion that I’m spending those vacation days lounging by the pool with a fruity umbrella drink and a giant jug of Coppertone is a fallacy, y’all.  The truth is that I’m spending those vacation days — and all of those “free” hours after the school day ends — just trying to make ends meet.

And I’m not the only one.  Heck, most of my friends and colleagues who are full-time teachers and the main providers for their families are working part-time jobs, too.  One works at the help desk at the local Apple store 20-30 hours a week.  Another stocks shelves at the Office Depot.  A third tutors four days a week and plays live shows at local bars three or four times a month. And a fourth coaches high level youth soccer teams.

Now don’t get me wrong:  Teaching is remarkable work and I’m blown away every day by just how lucky I am.  I have the chance to change lives — and I get to see the tangible impact of my work every time that a student walks through the door of my room with a story to share or a success to show me.  That’s the reason I still teach even though teaching doesn’t pay my bills.


But to suggest that I only work seven hours a day and 180 days a year is ludicrous.  It’s an antiquated and offensive notion that often becomes an excuse for paying teachers next to nothing.  

In the end, we have to decide as a community if we are okay with forcing accomplished teachers to find other work just to pay their bills?  What are the consequences — for our kids and our communities — when we fail to pay the folks in our classrooms competitive wages?  Can we really be surprised when good people quit, given that staying often means constantly worrying about where the next part-time paycheck is going to come from?



Related Radical Reads:

Teaching is a Grind

I Made $54,000 Last Year

The Truth about North Carolina’s Historic Pay Raise for Teachers

More on Thom Tillis and his “Historic Raises” for NC Teachers.

In an effort to raise a bit of awareness about the state of teaching salaries in North Carolina, I wrote a bit on the Radical last weekend titled The Truth about Thom Tillis and North Carolina’s “Historic” Teacher Raises.

A reader calling themselves TW27 stopped by to let me know that my piece was garbage:

But I guess it doesn’t matter that the Democrats didn’t give teachers a raise at all in 4 years? Give credit where some credit is due. The piece is garbage when you clearly have a slant and can’t be objective.  Where are your solutions? Anyone can point out our problems, but I don’t see many solutions being offered. The Dems didn’t offer much up in those 4 years.

Now let me make something perfectly clear:  I’m not ready to let any politician — regardless of party — off the hook for systematically screwing up education.  Heck, I’ve slammed Arne Duncan enough times in the last six years (see here, here, here, here and here) to prove that I don’t suffer left-leaning fools lightly either.

But the central point in my previous piece stands:  A look at the numbers proves that the recent raises given to North Carolina’s teachers are far from”historic” and “the largest in a generation” — terms that Tillis is touting on the campaign trail.

In fact, the raises given to North Carolina’s teachers would probably be more accurately described as:

  • “Better than nothing,” or…
  • “A drop in the bucket,” or…
  • “Getting teachers back to just SEVEN percent less than they used to make before their salaries were frozen for the better part of a decade.”

And given the sketchy nature of the funding sources that are being used to float our nifty new budget, the raises given to North Carolina’s teachers could also be more accurately described as:

  • “Somewhere in that silly financial gray area between temporary and permanent that politicians love to live in,” or…
  • “A huge political gamble,” or….
  • “Damn near crippling to every other social service agency that serves the poor in North Carolina.”

Heck, I’d even be happy with:

  • “A small but important step in the right direction,” or…
  • “Not nearly enough, but the best we can do right now,” or…
  • “An honest attempt to show North Carolina’s teachers that we ARE trying and that we DO care.”

The question that voters need to ask is why ISN’T Tillis using that kind of language to describe the raises given to teachers?  Why is he peddling loaded terms like “historic” and “the largest in a generation?”  Why is he pushing the notion that the recent raises make North Carolina “regionally and nationally competitive” when the AVERAGE teacher nationally is paid $56,000 while the TOP of North Carolina’s new pay scale is $50,000?




Related Radical Reads:

The Simple Truth About Thom Tillis and North Carolina’s “Historic” Teacher Raises

Arne Duncan is Just Plain Clueless

Bam and Arne Get it Wrong Again


The Truth about Thom Tillis and North Carolina’s “Historic” Teacher Raises

In what is likely to be a race that decides the composition of the US Senate, North Carolina’s Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is currently running neck-and-neck with Thom Tillis, the Republican Speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives.

For those of you who aren’t from around here, Thom and his right-leaning cronies have been in control of both the North Carolina House and Senate for the past two years — and in those two years, they have worked to systematically gut public education while heaping never-ending piles of scorn on classroom teachers (see here and here and here and here and here).  Essentially, they have been following a recent trend in the Republican party of trying to bend public education to their will or break it to pieces.


To prove JUST how far outside the lines Tillis and his right-leaning cronies are playing, consider that most of their recent #edpolicy legislation has literally been ruled unconstitutional by our state’s Supreme Court.  That includes attempts to strip away teacher tenure, to give raises to just the top 25% of teachers in any school district, and to funnel taxpayer dollars into private schools — including those with clear religious missions.  When every piece of landmark legislation put forward by a political party runs against our state’s Constitution, we ought to be more than a little concerned.


Tillis is currently trying to win favor among North Carolina voters by touting his leadership in pushing forward a new budget that includes what he describes as “a historic pay raise” for teachers.  In fact, in a recent debate with Senator Hagan, Tillis argued that the raise was “the largest in a generation” and that it makes North Carolina “regionally and nationally competitive.”

Now, it IS true that North Carolina’s teachers were given a raise this year and Tillis WAS instrumental in making that happen — so Thom’s not TOTALLY lying to voters.

But to paint our raises in such a positive light overlooks some rather startling truths about teacher compensation — both nationally and in North Carolina:

  • The AVERAGE classroom teacher salary in the United States is estimated to be $56,689 in 2013-2014.  The TOP of North Carolina’s newest salary schedule for teachers is $50,000.
  • North Carolina teacher salaries have been frozen since 2009.  Teachers haven’t even seen a cost of living adjustment in their salaries for the past six years.
  • In real dollar comparisons, North Carolina teaching salaries have DROPPED by 15% in the past ten years.  That’s the LARGEST drop in the nation by far during a time when 23 states managed to increase teacher salaries.
  • The majority of the funds for raising North Carolina’s teacher salaries are being pulled from one-time sources (cuts to health and welfare programs, projections for higher lottery revenues, dips into state reserves), calling the permanence of the salary increases into question.
  • Even WITH the new salary increases, North Carolina will rank 32 in the nation in teacher pay — which hardly feels “nationally competitive.”

On a more personal level, the new salary schedule doesn’t look all that much better to veteran teachers like me:

  • After taxes, I’m pulling in an extra $341 a month.  While that is a nice supplement to my salary and I’m MORE than thankful to have it, remember that it is the first change to my salary in 6 years.
  • Given that Tillis’s new salary schedule only provides teachers with raises once every five years, it is also the last raise I’ll get for another three years.
  • You can decide whether or not seeing your salary change by $4,000 over a DECADE  qualifies as “historic” and/or “once in a generation.”

In the end, salaries aren’t what drives me as an educator — and they aren’t what will drive me out of the classroom.

What drives me — and what might eventually cause me to quit — is having the respect of the general community.  There was once something beautifully rewarding about being a teacher because you KNEW that people were thankful for the contributions that you made to the lives of kids.  Kind words, warm praise and friendly smiles USED to be the norm — and they made up for the low salaries that automatically come with public sector work.

But every time I hear Speaker Tillis bragging about his efforts to “pay our teachers top salaries,” it makes me angry because it is nothing more than a crude attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of North Carolina’s voters from a guy who once made headlines for giving his own staffers raises that ranged from $12,000 to $30,000 per year.

The simple truth is that respecting educators is the LAST thing on Thom’s mind.  He’s too busy trying to get elected.



Related Radical Reads:

What’s Good for the Goose, Mr. Berger

Teaching is a Grind

Thom Tillis Found $30,000 to Give His STAFFERS Raises


What’s Good for the Goose, Mr. Berger….

North Carolina Senator Phil Berger might just be one of the most hypocritical political leaders in a legislature that is sadly FULL of hypocrites.  His single-minded goal for the past year has been to introduce elements of competition to the teacher pay scale (see here and here and here).  His argument is a simple one:  Getting rid of crappy teachers — and rewarding “accomplished” teachers — has to be made easier.

What makes me chuckle is that as the President Pro Tem of the North Carolina Senate — a position that he has filled since January of 2011 — Berger played a veto-proof role in redrawing North Carolina’s Congressional Districts, which have been rated as some of the LEAST competitive and MOST gerrymandered in the entire nation (see here and here).

Want to know JUST how skewed Berger’s redrawn districts are?  

Then consider that Sam Wang — the founder of the Princeton Election Consortium — ran North Carolina’s congressional delegation through millions of statistical combinations and our current breakdown of four Democrats and nine Republicans occurred in less than ONE PERCENT of the simulations.  “If districts were drawn fairly,” Wang writes, “this lopsided discrepancy would hardly ever occur.”

You see the hypocrisy here, don’t you?

The very guy pounding the teaching profession for its failure to embrace competition  literally led our state’s efforts to make elections LESS competitive.

Berger once said, “The vast majority of our teachers are dedicated professionals who…do a good job, but there are some that maybe ought not be teaching. Presently we have a system that does not, in my view, provide an effective tool for local administrators to remove those bad teachers.”

Let’s rewrite that quote:  “The vast majority of our LEGISLATORS are dedicated professionals who do a good job, but there are some that maybe ought not to be MAKING LAWS.  Presently we have a GERRYMANDERED system that does not, in my view, provide an effective tool for VOTERS to remove those BAD LEGISLATORS.

When legislators like Berger are ready to invest as much time and energy into reintroducing competition into North Carolina’s elections — something that doesn’t look likely given the ridiculous districts that they are directly responsible for, I’ll be ready to embrace the competition that they are ever-so ready to force on education.

Until then, it’s REALLY hard to take ’em seriously.



Related Radical Reads:

Three Reasons North Carolina’s Plans for Paying Teachers are a REALLY Bad Idea

Why I NEVER Recommend Teaching as a Profession

Need MORE Proof that Incentive Programs are Dangerous