Kim Elliiott

Kim Elliott

Teaching is the best job in the world! For the sake of this column, I consider all employees who work with students in Jackson County Public Schools “teachers.” Teachers transform lives – from academic needs to social and emotional needs; teachers assist with all needs.

There are so many job functions all rolled into one – caregiver, supporter, nurse (nose wiper and boo-boo bandager), self-esteem creator, teacher of all things academic and most things life, food preparer, sometimes bus driver, chaperon, and so forth and so on.

Teaching is a creative blend of art and science. You have to know your stuff to teach it, but oh, the many ways with which to teach it. Teachers are life-long learners.

Teaching is a chance to truly lead the world to the future, introducing students to new technologies and ways of presenting, curating and collaborating with others.

Today’s teachers are actually pioneering pedagogy, and can and will be able to hold their heads up high in the future when they look back and see how learning in this day and age took a radical but enormously beneficial turn for the better.

Teaching is a calling. Teachers are “whispered to,” often at an early age. We are metaphorically pushed and sometimes prodded to “answer the call” to help students one individual at a time.

We are helpers, savers, fixers and many other descriptors. Of course there are always a very few imposters, but the massive majority of teachers have their hearts in the right place.

Engaging students in greater collaboration, and the promotion of information leads to truly independent learning, and setting up such learning environments is an opportunity that all teachers now have before them.

There are few more gratifying feelings than being needed.

Teaching is a humbling profession. The amount of work teachers do compared to remuneration is shockingly disproportionate, in two ways: firstly in terms of how many paid vs. non-paid hours of work they receive, and secondly, in relation to other similarly creative and important vocations in our society.

So few teachers go into the vocation for the salary – it is a calling before anything else.

Nevertheless, shouldn’t we pay teachers a commensurate salary? In a new report (May 2019) by the Washington D.C. Economic Policy Institute, Economist Emma García and Research Associate Elaine Weiss add to a growing body of research on the financial hardships faced by teachers. The authors find a connection between poor compensation for educators and the national teacher shortage, which forces many to supplement their pay through moonlighting and other strategies.

Nationally, in the 2015–16 school year, 59 percent of teachers took on additional work either in the school system or outside of it – up from 55.6 percent in the 2011-12 school year. 


Other numbers: 

• 44.1 percent of teachers took on second jobs within the school system, such as coaching, student activity sponsorships, mentoring other teachers or teaching evening classes.

• 18.2 percent worked outside of the school system.

• 5.7 percent received compensation based on student performance.

Importantly, financial stress is greater for teachers in high-poverty schools. 

Nationally, in 2015-16, teachers in high-poverty schools were paid significantly less than those in low-poverty schools ($53,300 vs. $58,900) and earned a slightly smaller amount from moonlighting ($4,000 vs. $4,300), and the moonlighting that they did was less likely to involve paid extracurricular or additional activities for the school system, which can help them grow professionally as teachers.

A look at North Carolina teaching pay at the bachelor level tells a similar tale. A first year teacher earns $35,000 annually. A teacher in years 15-25 earns $50,000. Teachers with 25-plus of experience earn $52,000. This is base state pay.

Most local districts offer a teacher supplement that is funded by the local commission.

The average supplement in Jackson is $960 (2 percent); in Transylvania, $4118; in Swain (0 percent); and in Haywood, $2,643 according the Department of Public Instruction’s Finance and Business website data for 2019-20. 

Many school systems beyond Jackson County’s borders to the east offer much higher supplements, for example, as much as a 12 percent supplement over state base pay in Buncombe County.

Because so few teachers go into the teaching profession for the salary and because it is a calling, it is each of our duty to advocate for our excellent teachers and staff pay, respect and well-being.

As the superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools, it is my honor to support an increase in teacher and staff pay at the state level and teacher and staff supplement increases at the local level.

It is my calling to lead with a voice of advocacy for the group who answered the call to give their hearts, knowledge and care to the students of Jackson County. 

Thank you for “Engaging in Education” with Kim Elliott, superintendent.

Kim Elliott is superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools.