Educator vacancies rise as wages remain stagnant

Across the nation, teachers make less than the average American worker.

GH Falcon Staff

Across the nation, teachers make less than the average American worker.

The average first-year teacher with no children in North Carolina earns $5.00 per hour over a calculated livable wage.  An adult teacher with a child earns $14 per hour less than a calculated livable wage. As of 2022, educators make less than the typical American worker with an average salary of $47,000, which equates to approximately $21.36 per hour.  

Teachers across the United States continue to push for better wages as educator vacancies increase rapidly in the U.S. 

In recent years, teachers have voiced their concerns through petitions, yearly marches and unions. Salary growth has stagnated, and teachers have sought alternate career paths. Among the 50 states and Washington, D.C, North Carolina ranks 37th for teacher pay.

Difficulty with retaining and recruiting new teachers occurs within all districts in North Carolina. Ms. Kim Mackey, the project manager of the teacher union at Green Hope, stated, “The big part of the concern is that not only are we not attracting more people to come in, but we’re not hanging onto the great folks who should stick around as well.” As of October 1, 2022, there were 532 teacher vacancies across Wake County.

“Where folks have gotten discouraged is that the original commitment that they signed up for hasn’t really come into fruition,” added Ms. Mackey.

According to Ms. Mackey, excellent teachers still produce excellent content, regardless of the salary. However, the low pay prevents them from wanting to pursue education in the long-term. “If you were to take the teachers’ salaries schedule today and compare it to the salaries in 2007, the average teacher is making 16% less than their counterpart in 2007,” she said.

Vacancies affect present teachers as well, adding to their workload and sometimes forcing them to teach classes they are unqualified to teach, as well as not in their pay grade. Ms. Sarah Patton, a former Green Hope AP World History teacher, graduated from UNC in 2019 with a masters degree. Due to a lack of AP teachers at Green Hope, she taught the course without an AP certification, which she said was incredibly difficult. 

I mean it’s hard to feel respected when you’re working 10 hours a day, often 6-7 days a week, and still have to have roommates to afford rent each month.

— Ms. Sarah Patton, Former WCPSS Educator

“I felt unqualified which then made me feel like I was letting my students down,” said Ms. Patton. 

Mrs. Lauren Morency, an AP Statistics teacher at Green Hope, shared similar thoughts about the importance of the AP certification. “It’s necessary to take it, because it gives you important information, as well as showing where all the resources are for an AP course,” said Ms. Morency. 

According to the 2021 State of the Teaching Profession report, early career teachers (classified with having less than 3 years of experience) had a higher attrition rate than teachers that were not classified as early career teachers.

Ms. Patton, an early career teacher, left her job midway through the school year. “The pay structure for teachers is abysmal and I, like many other new teachers, couldn’t justify the time commitment that comes with the job to still be living paycheck-to-paycheck with the current cost of living,” she said.

Since 2022, large numbers of vacancies have appeared in North Carolina. (Megan Khor)

Despite attaining a Masters degree, Patton said she wasn’t earning enough to make a comfortable living, especially while putting in immense amounts of work every single day.

Aryan Shah (‘26), a former student of Ms. Patton, stated, “Ms. Patton did a lot for us as a teacher. She would put in so much work for her class, but I support her decision to leave because it’s unfair for her to put in this much effort and still worry about making rent.” Students are aware of the tough decisions teachers have to make when choosing to leave, and urge the government and congress to raise base pay so they can keep having teachers who make a positive impact on their education. 

Maleia Johnson (‘23), another Green Hope student, said, “For what teachers are doing, they’re just not being paid enough.” As someone who has always aspired to be a teacher, Johnson stated that, “I’ve always felt discouraged to go into education because of the pay, it’s frustrating for me because I feel like that’s what I want to do.” 

Johnson feels that teachers’ jobs are essential for the economy and for the lives of children. “They shouldn’t have to worry so much about the pay on their salary when they’re putting 100% into their everyday life for the kids, their school, and their community,” she said.

Congress is currently reviewing the American Teacher Act, a bill that would increase the average yearly teacher salary to $60,000 nationwide. The bill focuses on improving the quality of life for teachers by enforcing the minimum salary requirement through providing states with the opportunity to receive a four-year grant.

If passed, the bill proposed by Congress could directly help employ and retain a surplus of teachers across both North Carolina and the nation.