It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and all across the nation educators are enjoying clumsily wrapped gifts from students and heartfelt notes of gratitude from parents. Not to be left out of the festivities, North Carolina’s superintendent of schools Mark Johnson penned an op-ed to our state’s teachers. The piece is entitled ‘We must elevate, appreciate our teachers.’ Perhaps a more accurate title would have been ‘We must educate our teachers.’
Apart from a few obligatory platitudes about the amazing impact educators have on our children’s lives, much of Johnson’s message is to let teachers how good they have it in North Carolina. It’s the latest in a marketing campaign that began when superintendent recently rolled out the North Carolina School Finances data dashboard in a move timed to undermine thousands of educators coming to Raleigh on May 1 to highlight our state’s chronic underfunding of public schools.
Johnson was immediately called to task for his dashboard because, in order to show how well teachers are paid relative to other professions, it compared the average salaries of teachers to the median wages of non-teachers. This violation of 6th grade math has since been pointed out multiple times in the media but has still not been corrected, and the taxpayer-funded data dashboard continues to misinform the public.
In the latest round of our superintendent’s efforts to convince the public that teachers are paid handsomely and that the sea of red in Raleigh last week amounted to a bunch of misguided whiners, Johnson claims in his Teacher Appreciation op-ed that beginning teachers earn $13,000 more than the average UNC graduate makes one year after graduation:
Superintendent Johnson’s claim has now been republished by media outlets in Pitt County, Robeson County, Harnett County, Sampson County, Guilford County, Scotland County, and Forsyth County, and it’s likely to keep popping up in more places as Teacher Appreciation Week continues. I would bet that, at breakfast tables in all of those counties and more, folks are talking about how teachers will never be satisfied with what they earn. I would also speculate that was Johnson’s intent.
If the $26,400 average salary for a UNC graduate figure sounds implausibly low to you, that’s because it is.
According to Derek Scott, that average salary includes graduates who are either unemployed or, at the very least, rarely employed. In the study Johnson’s spokesman acknowledges the figure came from, for UNC graduates who earned less than $20,000, the most common salary was a little less than $2,000–which could only mean those graduates earned wages very intermittently at best. Here’s a chart from another study using the same data which illustrates this point:
To sum up, the message Superintendent Mark Johnson wants North Carolina teachers to receive this week is the following: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. Be glad you’re earning more than someone who doesn’t have a job.