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WV education graduates say teacher pay isn’t their top priority

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By Jennifer Smith

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Teacher pay is a concern for a lot of education students here in West Virginia getting ready to graduate this semester. However, it’s not their top concern.

Wednesday West Virginia State University hosted a Teacher Job Fair. Students from WVSU, the University of Charleston and Ohio Valley University got to sit down with 31 education recruiters from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia and interview for jobs.

Ross Thornton, a physical education student at WVSU, graduates in May. He’s from Mason County and said his number one priority is to find a job teaching close to home.

“I was interviewing with Mason, Putnam, Kanawha and Lincoln counties because they’re all within a 45-minute drive,” he said.

Thornton said possibly making less to stay in West Virginia wasn’t that important to him.

“There’s a lot of things teachers can do to supplement their salaries like working during the summer, after-school jobs, coaching, tutoring,” he said.

In fact, salary wasn’t a huge concern for Sara Tulley either, a WVSU Elementary Education student.

“It concerns me that I’m making less than teachers in other states but for West Virginia I think it’s a pretty good salary,” she explained.

Starting teachers in West Virginia earn on average $31,000.

Jenna Tate, who’s about to graduate from UC with a teaching degree, in social studies, wants to move out of state to teach.

“Honestly I’m looking to go to California, the San Francisco Bay area,” she explained.

If she gets a job there the starting salary is about $60,000, almost twice what she’d make here in West Virginia.
 
The number sounds good, but the average salary in the Bay City is $78,000. That’s $18,000 less. Here in West Virginia, the average salary is $28,000. Starting teachers make $3,000 more than the average worker.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee pushed for a teacher pay increase this legislative session. Teachers will see an extra $1,000 in their pay checks starting next school year.

Lee said every dollar counts when you’re trying to woo a teacher to stay here in West Virginia.

“We have 800 classrooms across the state without a certified teacher in them. That’s what we had this past year.”

He stressed when you can go to Maryland and make a lot more money, so teachers will make the move.

“Teachers are leaving the profession and leaving the state, going to the contiguous states because they can make more money,” he said.

When it comes to first time teachers, Lee explained, they may overestimate a little about the purchasing power of their $31,000 starting salary.

“It’s when you start to see how your bills pile up and the school loans come due, you realize you are underpaid,” said Lee.

West Virginia ranks 48 in the U.S. when it comes to teacher salaries.

That does not phase Danielle Loehr. The UC student will graduate in May with an elementary education degree. Her priority is staying here in West Virginia.

“[Teacher salaries] are lower but I went into this field knowing that!”