Featured photo: First Lady Jill Biden and Secretary Miguel Cardona Back to School Tour at NC A&T State University (photo by Carolyn de Berry)

All photos by Carolyn de Berry

On Monday afternoon, First Lady Jill Biden visited NC A&T State University as part of the Department of Education’s ‘Road to Success Back to School Bus Tour,’ which aims to showcase the ways that communities are helping students recover from the pandemic. She was joined by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Rep. Kathy Manning.

During her visit, Biden, who has worked in education for more than a decade, talked about the importance of quality schools and teachers, and how NCA&T is leading the way in the Triad.

“I’m so excited to be here in Aggieland,” Biden said. “It’s wonderful to kick off… ‘The Road to Success Tour’ at our nation’s largest HBCU; this is wild.”

Biden touched on the fact that she’s back teaching in classrooms at Northern Virginia Community College and how she loves the start of every new school year.

“Teaching isn’t what we do, it’s who we are,” she said. “And yet, for all of us who answered this calling, there is someone who maybe didn’t. Or someone who felt like they had to walk away…. And why is that?”

Biden noted the obstacles that stand in the way of some potential educators from realizing their dreams of teaching: student loans (“Which now we have an answer to,” she said), low salaries, class sizes and safety concerns.

“If we want to add more bright, talented people into this field… we have to give them the support that they or you all deserve,” Biden said. “We have to come to places like NC A&T and say, ‘We need you, yes you. All of you.’”

First Lady Jill Biden greets NCA&T student Jayden Seay after his speech on Monday.

She talked about the importance of having diverse faculty, including Black educators who look like their students and can relate to their experiences.

“Our classrooms need diverse perspectives and the chance to learn from teachers from every single background,” Biden said.

While she didn’t explicitly touch on the topic, Biden’s speech seemed to push back against the conservative movement that has villainized critical race theory, eradicated  LGBTQ+ rights in schools and pushed for book bans.

Part of a healthy education landscape, Biden argued, is the recruitment and retention of quality teachers. And in order to do that, she said educators need to use their ‘teacher voice’ to encourage others to answer the call.

“Join us; become a teacher,” she said. “And we will change the world, one student at a time.”

While Biden and Cardona touched on the ways in which the Biden administration’s efforts have helped schools reopen and eliminate debt for thousands of borrowers, not much was detailed about how the administration hopes to increase teacher pay.

According to a report by the News & Observer from May, North Carolina ranked 34th in average teacher pay this year, falling one ranking lower than last year in which the state ranked 33rd. Unfortunately for educators, average salaries for teachers have stagnated or fallen in recent years, allowing for the state to slip behind in rankings.

Last month, the North Carolina Association of Educators, a statewide union for teachers, opposed a plan to change how teachers are licensed and paid. According to reporting by WUNC, the proposal would “rid of the annual raises teachers currently receive for experience during the first 15 years of their careers. Instead, it would establish pay on factors like student growth on state tests, and evaluations of teachers by students and administrators.” The plan would also allow for teachers to earn higher salaries by being mentored by other educators and suggests a higher starting salary of $45,000 compared to the current base salary of $37,000.

However, the union said they opposed to measures, calling them a “distraction” and instead called for an expansion of the state’s Teaching Fellows loan forgiveness plan, increasing funding for teaching assistants and reinstating master’s pay and experience-based raises for teachers.

Earlier this month, Education NC reported that a state commission considered changes to the proposal and added a recommendation that master’s pay be reinstated. The commission will continue to work on the proposed model. Feedback can be sent to [email protected].

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