The current school year has been the challenge of a lifetime. Online/virtual learning became an unexpected necessity. Many parents, whether they were prepared or not, had to balance busy work and home lives with helping their children with virtual school.

During this Teacher Appreciation Week, we need to thank our teachers for all they did and continue to do, to make the best for our students out of a challenging situation.

Please thank your favorite teacher with a note, social media shout out, or kind word.

Kind words are not the only thing we should do to thank our teachers. North Carolina needs to commit to raise teacher pay for multiple years so that we can offer salaries competitive enough to attract good teachers and keep the ones we have. That means teacher pay needs to be a top priority in our state budget, not an afterthought after we cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers.

As our economy begins to grow and the job market tightens, there will be rising demand from private businesses and wealthier school districts to hire teachers away. Teacher pay needs to be competitive enough to attract the best and brightest college graduates to the field. In order to become more competitive with surrounding and neighboring districts, local teacher supplements need to be increased.

Teaching is a profession that deserves our respect and appreciation. Teachers are not just concerned with their own salary, they want to see improvements in the entire school building: From higher pay, to noncertified employees (e.g. school bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, teachers assistants, etc.), to new digital resources and textbooks, to upgrades in buildings and infrastructure. Funding these efforts, either through the state budget or through a statewide bond, can go a long way in making our schools better and improving the working environment for our teachers.

A recent survey lists North Carolina almost dead last nationally in state dollars spent per student. On this Teacher Appreciation Week, that is not how we should recognize our educators.

State lawmakers are working on the state budget this month. Now is the time to invest in teachers and every part of the school, treating teachers and other staff members as the professionals they are and recognizing the hard work they put in.

Rep. Raymond E. Smith Jr.

North Carolina House of Representatives District 21