There is a critical shortage of teachers in North Carolina.
This shouldn’t be a revelation.
But for any skeptics who might remain, seeing it this school year may finally mean believing it.
In the past school year, more than 1,800 teachers in North Carolina schools were not fully certified, meaning they were emergency substitutes completing their licensing requirements while on the job.
Schools are increasingly feeling the shortage of staff, even those in the state’s wealthiest districts.
“We have some of the same challenges as the other 114 districts in the state,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Superintendent of Schools Nyah Hamlett told WUNC.
For rural schools in the state, it’s worse.
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“We will potentially end up on August 29 with empty classrooms; there is no teacher to put there,” Michael Sasscer, superintendent of Edenton-Chowan Schools, told WUNC.
The Edenton-Chowan district in the eastern part of the state has only four schools. And it has six teaching vacancies to fill by August 29 in math, English and social studies, among other subjects.
“We interviewed candidates, but the candidates then selected other opportunities,” Sasscer said. “We are now at the point where there are no more candidates for these positions.”
As of Tuesday, Guilford County schools still had 90 vacant classroom spaces, communications director Wanda Edwards said. On June 28, there had been 221.
“Staff and teacher shortages are impacting school districts across the country,” Edwards said. “We continue to deploy various recruitment strategies to recruit teachers, including signing bonuses.”
We should have known this was happening.
If you keep tamping the faucet, why do you expect water to still flow out the other side of the pipe?
And by our actions, or lack thereof, over the years, we have slowly but surely bent the tap in the wrong direction.
Our colleges and universities are training fewer and fewer students in teacher education programs. Between 2010 and 2020, undergraduate enrollment in UNC system teacher education programs fell by 44%.
North Carolina schools don’t pay enough.
If you are a teacher, the days are long, the nights sometimes longer.
You are both tasked and tasked with dealing with societal issues that might come through the doors of your classroom every day.
In the back of your mind, you worry about violence and safety. You know that school shootings are statistically rare. But you also know that they can still happen, anywhere, anytime.
And then there’s the gratuitous meanness that too many teachers have to put up with in today’s fierce political climate:
Being reviled for wearing a mask or daring to teach remotely during the height of COVID-19.
Being accused of “grooming” or indoctrinating children.
Being pilloried from near or far for promoting despicable books and teaching critical race theory, even if you don’t.
The fact is that some people are born to teach. It is a gift, a passion, a mission.
But sometimes we seem to go out of our way to dissuade them – to nudge them into something more lucrative but less fulfilling. And probably less important.
So it’s not just about the money, although that still matters.
And since the state sits on a fat and healthy budget surplus, it underpays its teachers.
The numbers say it all:
Even with a 4% increase, North Carolina public school teachers are earning half the rate of inflation, which means they are losing ground.
First-grade teachers in the state earn 17% less than their counterparts in Alabama.
North Carolina teachers with 35 years of experience earn 23% less than their Alabama peers. (No offense to Alabama, but it’s embarrassing.)
The average teacher salary in North Carolina public schools is $10,000 below the national average.
If there is justice, the courts will ultimately decide that the state must fix the underfunding of schools. The North Carolina Supreme Court will soon hear the Leandro case, a 28-year-old lawsuit that rightly argues that North Carolina has failed in its constitutional mandate to provide a solid basic education to all of its students. A judge has already ordered the state to fulfill this obligation, but the legislator essentially argues that when it comes to financing, a judge cannot tell him what to do.
Meanwhile, the rest of us should do our part by supporting and appreciating the teachers.
Even if they deserve better pay and more resources, they probably wouldn’t mind hearing two simple but powerful words a little more often, either: Thank you.