While many parents are spending the weekend working to gather last-minute supplies before school starts on Monday, some districts across the state are still shopping for different kinds of classroom essentials — teachers.
The North Carolina School Superintendent’s Association reported 3,619 teaching vacancies statewide last week, up from 2,355 at this time last year.
“Probably the biggest problem facing superintendents is hiring staff,” NCSSA executive director Jack Hoke said on a Public School Matters podcast Aug. 9. even assistant directors are hard to hire right now.
Reported teacher vacancies vary widely across eastern North Carolina, with Camden County schools reporting about half a dozen and Currituck County schools reporting more than a dozen more teacher hires which still need to be done. Pitt County Schools reported Friday that 32 of the approximately 1,700 classroom teaching positions in the district remain vacant, while there are 26 unfilled teaching assistant positions.
In a report to the Board of Education earlier this month, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources Kristi Rhone said schools have a plan to start the school year without all positions being filled. She said the system is working with Education Staffing Services to temporarily assign substitute teachers to vacant positions and has hired nearly 75 non-traditional candidates who have provisional licenses or are working to obtain a license under a residency program.
Holly Heath Fales, assistant dean for undergraduate affairs and educator preparation at East Carolina University’s College of Education, said while ECU sees a drop in the number of undergraduates pursuing careers in education, the number of students returning to school to obtain their teaching license through the university’s residency program is increasing.
Formerly called Side Entry, the residency allows participants who already have a four-year degree to work as classroom teachers while meeting online teaching license requirements. The program, which can take up to three years, admitted nearly 600 students in the 2021-22 academic year.
Meanwhile, undergraduate enrollment for education programs within the College of Education has fallen from 1,473 in 2020-21 to 1,220 in 2021-22. This includes planned and declared education majors.
“In a typical year, about 400 applicants will graduate from our traditional programs between fall and spring,” Fales said, adding that the largest percentage of them are elementary education majors. “For programs like high school and middle school science and math, what we call high-needs areas, we don’t have a lot of applicants. We are lucky if we have 10 traditional math education graduates. Usually in science, we only get maybe five degrees a year.
While it’s true that ECU, like many universities across the country, is experiencing an overall decline in enrollment, Fales sees the decline in education student numbers as particularly problematic.
“Teachers are the backbone of everything,” she said. “Every parent should be very concerned about the teacher shortage in North Carolina schools.”
The landscape was different five years ago, when Mathin Ange graduated from primary education at ECU. The Martin County native completed his first year as a fifth-grade teacher at Sam D. Bundy Elementary School in 2019, the year before the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close and the switch to online learning.
“I don’t remember there being a ton of openings like there are now,” Ange said. “I saw climate change.”
While some cite the increased burden of COVID-19 as the reason educators are leaving the profession, Ange sees other factors at play in keeping people from choosing a career in teaching. Among them is the discontinuation of retiree health benefits for those hired after January 2021.
“We didn’t make a ton of money, but one thing that was nice about being a government employee and being a teacher is the health benefits you get after you retire. “, did he declare. “I really think the state took that away that really hurt people going into education because that was one of the benefits of being an educator. I think that explains why we see so many opportunities in education right now.
“It’s not so much about keeping teachers (that’s in question) as getting them on the pitch at 18, 19,” he said.
While Fales agrees that pressures during the pandemic have contributed to teacher burnout, she thinks financial considerations may be the bottom line for high school and college students considering a career in education.
Despite some recent wage increases, “the pay isn’t there,” she says. “We are currently in an environment where we have a very competitive workforce. There are other options for teaching graduates, so they can go on to other careers and, quite frankly, earn a lot more than they earn in teaching. This has always been a problem with teacher compensation. I think it has been exacerbated over the past decade.
Fales, an ECU graduate who taught at Greene County schools from 2003 to 2011, received a higher salary because of his graduate degree. But nearly a decade ago, the state ended the practice of raising the salaries of teachers who earned master’s degrees.
“The teacher pay scale of 20 years ago compared to the teacher pay scale of today, and if you factor in inflation, teachers are basically earning less today than before. “, said Fales. “If I walked into class today, I would probably earn less than I did in 2011.”
Kaylen Maier, who is entering her third year as a social studies teacher at DH Conley High School, said salary was a key argument she’s heard from people who think she should choose another major in college.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘You’re not going to make any money. You should change your mind,’ which of course isn’t what a high school or freshman wants to hear.
According to the PDK (Phi Delta Kappan) 2022 survey of public attitudes toward public schools, released this week, 54% of respondents would give public schools in their community an A or B. But fewer people than ever have expressed interest in having their child work as a public school teacher.
Only 37% of respondents to the national random sample survey said they would like one of their children to become a teacher in a public school in their community. That’s nearly 10% less than in 2018 and about half of those favoring teaching careers in 1969, the year the survey began.
Of the 62% who would not want their child to teach, 29% said the reason for their response was poor pay and benefits; 26%, the difficulties of the job; 23%, a lack of respect for the profession.
Although Maier loves her job, she’s not surprised to see declining interest in the profession. An ECU graduate who attended Duplin County High School, she saw respect for teachers skyrocket in the spring of 2020 when schools closed and students had to continue learning from home. Maier, who was an intern at Conley at the time, saw some of that appreciation forgotten over the next two years.
“My dad is a truck driver and I would never say, ‘Your job is so easy. You don’t deserve the money you earn,'” she said of the public comments sometimes aimed at educators.
“I really hope we can do things to make teaching a more sought after and more valued and respected profession in the future,” Maier said. “I think all teachers deserve this and so do the students.”
Both Maier and Ange have agreed to spend at least four years teaching in public schools in eastern North Carolina as participants in the Maynard Scholars program at ECU. Modeled after the NC Teaching Fellows Scholarship, which is no longer available to ECU students (see related article), the scholarship program offers up to $26,000 over four years of education study. It is one of a number of initiatives the university has undertaken to help attract students to the field.
Other efforts include PIRATE (Pirate Institute for Rural Aspiring Teacher Educators), a free two-day program that brings rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors to campus to learn about teacher education programs. teachers. Additionally, the university has created Partnership Teach, a collaborative effort that allows students to start at any community college in the state and move on to ECU to complete their teaching degree online.
Fales sees all of these efforts as part of the solution to the teacher shortage. But she remains concerned that if pay issues are not resolved, vacancies will persist.
“We had a lot of conversations, working groups, focus groups, etc. on teacher recruitment and retention,” she said. “You can have as many entry routes as you want… Until we really address teacher compensation, I don’t think we’ll see any improvements in enrollment.
“A teaching degree is a tough sell,” Fales said. “I really think we need to focus on making teaching a desirable option, a competitive profession.”