June 11, 2021 was my last day of teaching. The decision to leave was emotional and I miss my students every day. Teaching American history has been my North Star since I was sixteen. However, after fourteen years of teaching, I left, and I am not alone.
On the best days, teaching is hard work. The nuances of teaching often remain hidden from those outside the building, as teachers are responsible for the social and emotional health of each child, making sure the curriculum is relevant and accurate, and in the social sciences. , students are prepared to become active members of our democracy after graduation.
Over the past two years, teaching has become even more difficult. The results of this can be seen in districts across the state as teachers leave the profession in droves. According to teacher recruiting sites for three central North Carolina school districts, as of November 12, 2021, there were 691 open teacher positions.
Today more than ever, teachers of your community needs to see that you are not just behind them, but with them.
Why teachers are leaving the profession
Teacher attrition is not a new conversation in education. However, there are three major factors that make teaching in the 2021-2022 school year different from others.
During the 2019 and 2020 school years, many teachers felt, âWe cannot leave now, the children need us. I have thought this often. In fact, until February 2021, teacher attrition was relatively low compared to the previous three years. Throughout the pandemic, teachers have learned to adapt to new learning environments, sought solutions to improve student engagement, and tried to keep learning.
This school year, however, the past two years have finally taken their toll on the teaching community. WUNC recently reported that although there are no official statistics yet on the number of teachers who have left this year, there are “reports from the field” that the shortage is acute statewide. . Whether for personal, mental or family health reasons, the pandemic is a starting factor for teachers. And to be fair, the shortages are not limited to certified teacher positions, but are spreading to every corner of every school building. The loss of teachers and staff adds to other systemic problems, leaving increased responsibilities to those who remain.
2. Wage policy.
Anyone who knows a teacher or watches the local news knows that paying teachers is not a new discussion. Since I began teaching in North Carolina in 2010, the state legislature has removed tenure, ended additional pay for graduate degrees, and initiated a political debate every year on teacher pay in negotiations. budgetary.
It was only recently that the state budget was enacted. While this results in an average increase of 5% for teachers over the next two years, for many seasoned teachers it only translates into an additional $ 50 to $ 65 per month. One would expect that, with everything on a teacher’s plate in the 2021 school year, paying for their hard work would be a legislative priority. Yet this is not the case, and teachers are very aware of it.
3. Critical theory of race.
The CRT debate is an issue that directly affects teachers, their classroom lessons and their interactions with students.
The North Carolina public debate over the CRT in the classroom prompted the Johnston County Council of Commissioners to vote to suspend funding for schools until the CRT is banned, urged the Legislature of the State of North Carolina to propose legislation and is one of the main goals of the current Lieutenant Governor. Mark Robinson who created the FACTS task force to search for teachers suspected of teaching CRT and indoctrinating students.
Teachers grapple with the realities of the pandemic, the frustrations over the politics around teacher compensation, and now the potential for punishment or loss of their position if they bring up a topic or conversation that could be interpreted as CRT.
A community approach to teacher retention
I recognize that the issues are complex and nuanced. As an experienced educator, I know that the following solutions will not solve everything. But I believe there are three things we can all do, right now, to support teachers in North Carolina.
First, look for opportunities to express your appreciation for teachers.
In my drawer next to me I have all the notes a student gave me over the years and in front of me I have student letters, artwork and poetry hanging on the walls from my home office. Small testimonials of a job well done often have a bigger impact than you might think. I encourage you to drop a teacher a note, tell their principal about the great job they do, volunteer at a school, or even buy them a cup of coffee.
Second, spend time understanding what the students are learning.
If you have a concern, read with them and reference North Carolina Learning Standards. Take the opportunity to learn with the students in your life. Discuss lessons with teachers in a spirit of curiosity. However, be patient as many teachers are currently overwhelmed and have become accustomed to emails sent in a very different spirit.
Third, call your state officials.
Advocate to depoliticize teacher pay and help make progress for teachers to earn what they are worth. Elected officials occupy positions based on your support. If you don’t agree with what they’re doing, tell them, then vote.
It is no exaggeration to say that teachers have played a role where we are all today and continue to play a role in the lives of our children. I wouldn’t be in education without my high school history teacher and the positive impact he has had on my life. North Carolina teachers need community members to recognize the issues that push them out of their classrooms and become the movement that encourages them to stay.