Teachers Receive State And County Bonus Pay

The retention bonuses made the Jan. 30 paycheck the largest some teachers had ever received in their careers


Siena McGarrigle, Co-Editor in Chief

Both the state of North Carolina and Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) decided to recognize educators for their hard work and dedication throughout the pandemic by awarding bonuses.

The state of North Carolina issued a general $1500 bonus for teachers, a $300 bonus for teachers employed as of Jan. 1 2022 and an additional bonus for those who completed training during the pandemic.

WCPSS plans to pay teachers in three installments, the first bonus was given in November 2021, the second in January 2022 and the third and fourth bonuses are expected to arrive in May and November 2022.

This recognition comes after what some teachers and legislators claim is a long history of teachers being underpaid and the unprecedented challenges educators have endured for the past two years in midst of the pandemic.

“We have never had to face such circumstances in our profession. We teachers are masters at teaching in-person. We are trained on engagement within the classroom. Then all of the sudden, within a month’s time, we were expected to teach our courses over a computer,” English teacher Sarah Freeman said. “Many of us had to become learners ourselves. I remember spending hours researching and trying to find new programs that I thought would help me teach remotely. We were also dealing with our own families during that time. I was at home while my husband was working from home and my son was needing my assistance while doing second grade at home. Plus, my dog kept barking during all of my live meets. Patience was a keyword that we all needed to have while teaching and learning through the pandemic.”

Chorus teacher Mary McGrath expresses how the sudden switch to a virtual setting derailed the group dynamics of her classes.

“It was a nightmare. The challenge was that this art was not possible. Chorus is not a chorus unless you are singing together as a group. It is an independent voice study. It is a music theory study. The biggest challenge that I found is that my students didn’t feel like there was a sense of community, so everything that we did in class was really social, emotional learning and community building with some music sprinkled in. Chorus is not possible unless you are a group singing together,” McGrath said.

While most teachers had to adjust their tried and true courses to fit into a post-pandemic classroom, some had to experience their first year of teaching in the Covid-19 chaos. Spanish teacher Theresa Rogers details the challenges she faced throughout her first year.

“Teaching during a pandemic was hard because I had no class that prepared me to do it in school. A lot was expected of me, but no one really knew how to meet those expectations because we were all struggling to figure it out. All of my practicing internships had been in-person, so it was a learning process I had to learn quickly,” Rogers said.

The pandemic was hard on every educator, however, the additional bonuses made teachers feel they were being seen for their devotion and efforts.

“I think many teachers feel burnt out. We have exhausted ourselves with professional demands. The teachers I know will always put their student’s needs first. They work after hours, weekends, etc. These bonuses make me feel like those extra hours are noticed,” Freeman said.

Social studies teacher Lindsay Nielson describes her thoughts and feelings upon receiving the first bonus.

“The first thing I said when I saw the bonuses land on my paycheck was, ‘Wow, this must be what it feels like to be respected for a job well done’,” Nielson said. “That’s not a knock against the county so much as it is the state. Wake County has always paid the largest county supplement in the state, since I have been a teacher. However, the North Carolina General Assembly has shown time and time again how little they value teachers; especially veteran teachers, like many of my colleagues, whose salaries max out well before retirement.”

Though teachers are thankful for the additions to their paychecks, educators unanimously agree that these bonuses are merely a step in the right direction.

“I think they are great; however, it’s only a start and the county and state could really do better. In order to keep teachers you need to raise their salary, not just give bonuses,” said Child Development and Early Education teacher Helen Owens.

Receiving these bonuses has stirred up the issue of teacher pay within the educator community.

“It (the bonuses) gave me an ounce of encouragement. Teachers are still not paid enough, and I highly doubt they will ever be, but we knew that going into the career,” Rogers said. “I work from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. most days, and I realize not every teacher does that, but even then, there’s not an accurate reflection of our dedication in our paychecks.”

Nielsen gives her take on the state and county’s financing of the education system and emphasizes the importance of voting for change.

“Pay is just one part of the issue for teachers. The lack of funding for school needs, the lack of support for students, parents and teachers is astounding. There is a lot of work to be done, and I’m afraid that if something doesn’t change, and soon, that many teachers will leave the profession as others have already done,” Nielsen said. “It’s up to everyone in our community to be informed and make the best decisions based on what each person values as it comes time to vote in the midterm elections. As a social studies teacher, it makes me sad how little folks seem to value the opportunity to vote, especially in local and midterm elections.”

The majority of teachers will be putting their bonuses towards practical needs such as summer funds, bills, student loans, groceries, car payments and mortgages.

Despite the bonuses and the crucial issue of educator pay, teachers’ passion for education remains unwavering.

“It doesn’t have any factor because at the end of the day the bonus isn’t going to increase my effort. Either way I’m going to try to reach my students and be the best educator,” English teacher Justin Richards said.

In light of being recognized for their efforts, teachers reflect on why they pursued careers in education. Rogers expresses what inspired her to teach Spanish.

“I really like helping people broaden their horizons. Learning Spanish has always helped me feel connected to something bigger, even though I’m not Hispanic. I have always been a leader, albeit a quieter one, but I like to be sure that everyone’s voices are heard,” Rogers said.