OPINION: Teachers Protest in the Carolinas

By Jade Edwards

Thousands of teachers used a personal day on Wednesday, May 1 to protest in Columbia, South Carolina, contributing to the inevitable closing of at least five school districts.  On the same day, a mass protest in Raleigh, North Carolina effectively closed more than 40 school districts and charter schools. Why are these teachers doing this? They find the sacrifice of being out of the classroom for a day necessary to bring their thoughts on their value to the forefront of politicians’ minds.

Teachers do not feel as valued and respected as they should be.  With average salaries far below the national average for the same level of education and not enough funds suitable to give a quality education to students, many high quality teachers are not willing to stay in the profession.  Although education gives people the building blocks to obtaining an amazing career and keeps the world running, it is not put on a high enough level of importance. Teachers’ salaries are just one of the main indicators of how low education seems to be worth to our society.

Starting salaries for teachers are only $32,000 a year.  The level of poverty for a family of four is $25,750 a year.  With taxes and a hefty retirement take-out, some teachers are not even taking home $2,000 a month.  What makes this so detrimental is that these low salaries have not been keeping up with inflation. So many teachers have to work one or even two extra jobs outside of their career just to pay the bills each month.  It is not a surprise that the Carolina teachers are asking for at least a 5-10% raise as well as improved compensation and benefits.

Beyond a change in the pay for teachers, the protestors are also asking for more mental health counselors, more psychologists, and more social workers.  Teachers are often the first people to hear or know about what is going on with a student. Due to low salaries and lack of funds in education, schools are often lacking enough people to help students with mental health or just counseling needs.  Mental Health America, a national organization advocating for the prevention of mental health issues and for adequate help for people suffering from mental health problems, found that, “The rate of youth with Major Depressive Episode (MDE) increased from 11.93% to 12.63%” since the first State of Mental Health in America report in 2015.  If issues in mental health could be further prevented in youth, we could probably decrease the number of adults with mental health problems which currently stands at over 44 million American adults.  As mental health becomes a more talked about subject in this country and even around the world, counselors, psychologist, and social workers will gain a higher demand in schools.

In order to accommodate these demands, a reevaluation of tax distribution needs to be done.  Nevertheless, this can be achieved as long as the people of the Carolinas, or better yet, Americans as a whole, realize that our values when it comes to education is 100 percent necessary.  Too many teachers are thinking about leaving the profession if these needs are not met or even just worked toward. That leaves low-quality, non-certified teachers to take over educating America’s youth. What will our nation turn into then?

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