New law paves economic path for graduating teachers

Linda Cummins
A&F Staff Writer
lcummins@unca.edu

The Department of Education’s budget passed last summer by Congress funded several economic incentives to recruit the best new teachers available nationwide.

“New teachers willing to enter certain staffing shortage areas will receive additional income during the first year,” said Brook Thompson, teacher recruitment and retention liaison at UNC Asheville. “The areas most in need of teachers are Spanish, high school math and science, all middle grade core subjects and special education.”

Elementary schools will be affected also because of a new law that requires smaller class sizes for kindergarten through third grade. The law also states that new graduates who did well in college will get paid more their first year of employment.

“If you graduate college with a grade point average of 3.75 or higher and you work at a low-income school or a poor performing school, you get paid an extra $2,300 your first year,” Thompson said.

New teachers entering STEM fields will receive an additional  $1,300. Teachers not pursuing STEM fields will receive an additional $1,000 during their first year of teaching if they graduate with a 3.75 grade point average or higher. Additional requirements to qualify for these pay increases include testing and background clearances, Thompson said.

“I’m thinking about doing English with a teaching licensure so that I can add on to the English degree and teaching is more of a viable career option,” said Madison Sellars, a freshman student. “I really enjoy working with kids and I think it is really important to have somebody in the classroom that is there because they want to teach, not because they couldn’t find something else to do. I had a lot of those teachers in middle school.”

A new budget gives teachers graduating with a grade point average of 3.75 or higher a chance to qualify for an annual pay increase. Photo by Bryce Alberghini.

Thompson did not plan to teach. Originally, she studied  international affairs. She said her internship in Washington, D.C. at a human rights organization put her into the field.

“I had no experience teaching with high schoolers when I found out my job was to create a curriculum around human rights topics,” Thompson said. “I loved it and I loved the way the students made me think about things differently. The classroom is a space where you can really make some changes and see the fruits of your labor.”

Deciding that impacting people’s lives is what she ultimately wanted in a job, Thompson went back to school to get her teaching licensure.

To initiate the process at UNCA, students register for education department class 210 and 211 once they have 30 college credit hours.

“The nice thing about the 210 class is that it allows you to experience all three areas of public education: elementary, middle and high school,” said Phoenicia Schwidkay, a senior classics with teacher licensure student.

Schwidkay also works as a peer mentor with the education department peer outreach program.

“You are able to experience what you hope to go through before you actually step into it,” Schwidkay said.

Teachers are trying to help kids and some kids are going to push back, Thompson said. New teachers need to be emotionally strong enough to handle that.

“Teaching is a job that is different than other jobs,” Thompson said. “The kids bring with them things that are happening outside of the school into the school—things that are happening in their families’ lives and their neighborhoods’ lives.”

School districts look for more than just a person to stand in front of a blackboard all day. Thompson said they look for teachers who are community-minded.

“To show your kids that you really care you have to be involved, like going to your kids basketball games or participating in family nights. It is a community endeavor to teach,” Thompson said.

A big part of teaching is showing kids that you care and building those relationships, she said. Having those relationships in place before a student crisis appears is crucial to the students and the teachers.

“Most of the students you will interact with will have at least one adverse childhood experience. That could be anything from divorce to after-school abuse to neglect,” Thompson said. “So there is an element of social work as a teacher.”

From the very first education department class prospective teachers take, they go out into the local schools and apply what they are learning at UNCA.

“We want to make sure you are getting practical skills. The field work does gradually get more intense,” Thompson said.

Prospective teachers learn to help their students by following a tutoring model teaching them how to ask questions leading to critical thinking, Thompson said.

“We want to make sure you are getting practical skills,” Thompson said. “If you ask the right question, it helps the students think deeper and get to the right answer on their own so you don’t just give them the answer.”

Graduating teachers may engage their skills regardless of job location, moving to other states or even overseas with their licenses. Out-of-state teacher recruiters from South Carolina and Tennessee attended the recent career fair at the Sherrill Center.

“I think we need people who are thinking strategically about what kind of role does public education play in society and what role they can play within the system,” Thompson said.

“There are American schools all over the world. We have students working in Albania, Japan and Brazil,” Thompson said.

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