Right now, a teacher pay ranking of 48th in the country doesn't cut it, and is a standing most people in West Virginia -- as well as many county board of education officials -- recognize as unacceptable.
By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, West Virginians said in a 2013 survey that educators should receive a salary increase.
And the vast majority of the 55 county boards of education have signed resolutions calling for multiyear salary increases for both professional and service personnel. These resolutions recognize the fact that more than 50 percent of current educators are ready to retire, and the average teacher salaries in West Virginia are nearly $10,000 less than the national average.
The resolutions also recognize that teachers are the best resource a school can offer students, and the key to providing a top-notch education.
Teaching isn't easy, and the dedicated professionals who are the single most important component to successful schools deserve to be treated like professionals.
While teachers are paid for 10 months of work, the extra unpaid duties they often take on extend throughout the summer months. Many teachers take college courses or earn continuing education credits during the summer. They'll outline lesson plans and search for classroom resources that aid instruction. Teachers also work ahead on textbook adoptions and spend extra time preparing their classroom to make it student friendly for the coming school year.
So even when their students aren't in school, great teachers remain focused on improving children's academic performance.
An interesting piece of research from the University of Virginia about the effects of teachers on student achievement found that years of teaching at grade level was tied significantly to a child's achievement. The research showed that it took 21 years of teaching at the same grade level to reach maximum effectiveness. Even more significant is that that once teacher effectiveness began to decline, the 30-year veteran teacher was still more effective on student achievement than a 10-year teacher.
In 2012, more than 1,540 college graduates in West Virginia earned education degrees, according to the state Department of Education. But less than one-third of those graduates -- 438 in all -- were employed in our schools. Upon graduation, most of those 1,100 other graduates left the state to teach elsewhere or stayed in state and chose professions that pay better.
At the same time, school systems throughout our state struggle to find highly trained professionals to fill classroom vacancies.
Let's reverse these trends, and begin the process of reinvesting in education by reinvesting in our teachers and students.
Lee, a special education teacher at Princeton Senior High School in Mercer County with 22 years of classroom experience, is president of the West Virginia Education Association.