Earlier this week, NaShonda Cooke, a teacher at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh appeared on the cover of Time magazine as part of an article about the financial challenges of being a teacher. Printed over Cooke’s picture on the cover are two sentences.
I have 20 years of experience, but I can’t afford to fix my car, see a doctor for headaches or save for my child’s future. I’m a teacher in America.
In the article, Cooke goes on to say, “It’s not about wanting a pay raise or extra income. . . It’s just about wanting a livable wage”
Cooke is a single mom with two children, one with autism.
Cooke’s annual salary from the Wake County Public Schools is $69,165.
The salary is for two positions; Cross Categorial Resource Teacher ($55,401) and an Intervention Teacher ($13,764). According to records, her salary is for 10.5 months of employment.
First, let’s provide a little perspective. According to the US Census Bureau, median household income for Wake County is $70,620, essentially what Cooke earns herself. Her income is also 93% higher than the per capita income in Wake County. The median household income in North Carolina is $48,256.
Cooke earns more than most of her teaching colleagues in Wake County and across the state with the average teacher salary of about $50,900. Nationally the average teacher salary is about $59,000.
Of course, it should be noted that North Carolina teachers have received five consecutive pay raises since 2014. Teachers have received an average increase of $8,700 — or nearly 20 percent of their base salary — since 2014.
Cooke says she wants a livable wage and struggles to pay bills and save for her children’s future.
I would like to ask Ms. Cooke: what is a livable wage? Earlier this year at the May 16th teacher rally I asked several teachers a similar question, “What is a fair salary?” None of the teachers I asked provided an answer.
The average teacher employed with Wake County Public Schools receives an annual benefits package (health insurance, retirement etc.) worth $18,000. If she continues to teach another ten years, Cooke would also have the option to retire at 53 with full pension benefits and health insurance for premiums as low as $25/month. .
I am sure Ms. Cooke hoped that sharing her story might gain sympathy for the plight of teachers everywhere. For me, it only raises more questions. Struggling on a household income of $70,000, with $18,000 worth of benefits? Most would greet that statement with raised eyebrows.
Cooke says she struggles to save money, pay rent, students loans, health insurance premiums, and afford college for her child.
Welcome to the real world, Ms. Cooke. I don’t know many people who don’t struggle with the things you mentioned. Life is hard, and a job is no guarantee that you’ll be inoculated from the struggles.
Cooke and other teachers want higher salaries. They have every right to make their case in the public square. Long ago teachers organized to make themselves a more formidable force.
Perhaps it’s time to re-think the current model that makes teacher salaries a political fight. Why don’t we ever hear about protests, marches or magazine covers discussing the salaries of private school teachers?
Cooke wants others to know of her plight. That’s fair. We may also want to know of her activism in NCAE, and her role on Governor Cooper’s Teacher Advisory Commission. Facts conveniently left out of the Time magazine article.