Viewpoint: Support North Dakota's education professionals
Teachers embrace this responsibility because they know that as a society, we do not do anything more important than educate our future.
As president of North Dakota United, the state’s union of 11,500 educators and public employees, I want to take this opportunity to welcome students, their outstanding teachers and educational support professionals back to school.
Classrooms across North Dakota are once again abuzz with energy and enthusiasm as teachers work tirelessly to educate every child that walks, runs, rolls, or is carried through our schoolhouse doors. Teachers embrace this responsibility because they know that as a society, we do not do anything more important than educate our future.
Unfortunately, North Dakota is not immune to the teacher shortage impacting schools across the nation. Open positions are going unfilled, and educators are leaving the field at an unprecedented rate. Many districts in North Dakota have gone as far as to hire international teachers to fill positions.
Educators have long earned less than similarly educated and experienced individuals in the private sector. In 1996, the pay gap nationally was 6.1%. According to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, teachers were paid 23.5% less than non-teacher, college-educated professionals in 2021. In North Dakota, that gap is slightly lower than the national average, at 17.8%. Teachers deserve a professional salary commensurate with their professional training.
Every teaching position left unfilled negatively impacts our students. Our kids deserve enthusiastic educators, wholly committed to ensuring that their students receive enriching educational opportunities that will serve them well now, and in their lives beyond school. When teachers leave the profession because they are not being paid enough, or because of the unrelenting attacks by political “think tanks,” regarding curriculum, it leaves gaping holes in the fabric of our public education system.
The good news is that we have the capacity to mitigate the challenges facing education in North Dakota. Parents, community members, teachers, administrators, school boards and politicians all have a role to play in restoring respect for teachers and for the institution of public education.
We can start with the upcoming election. Learn each candidate’s position on public education and vote for those candidates who embrace the promise of public education and will work to support teachers and students as they work to create a better North Dakota. We can also work together to eschew the ginned-up rhetoric from those more interested in scoring cheap political points than in ensuring that our children receive an honest, well-rounded education.
There is no doubt that public education will see many challenges during the next legislative session. Voucher schemes that divert monies raised for public purposes to private and parochial schools, unnecessary curriculum transparency gimmicks, and attempts to deny salary increases to hard-working public employees are almost certain to surface. All of these run counter to North Dakota’s commitment to provide great public schools and great public service.
North Dakota’s teachers and education support professionals appreciate the support of parents and communities as they endeavor to teach our state’s children. Together, we will continue to put our children at the center of our good intentions to help ensure their success.
Nick Archuleta is the president of North Dakota United, the largest professional union of public educators and employees in the state, representing 11,500 K-12 public school teachers, school staff, university faculty and staff, and city, county and state employees.