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Our Opinion: Not enough teachers

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There is a critical shortage of teachers in North Carolina.

This should not come as a revelation.

But for any of the skeptics who may be left, seeing it this school year may finally mean believing it.

During the last school year, more than 1,800 teachers in North Carolina schools were not fully certified, meaning they were emergency fill-ins who were finishing their licensing requirements while on the job.

Schools are feeling the staffing pinch more and more, even those in the state’s wealthier districts.

“We have some of the same challenges that the other 114 districts across the state experience,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Nyah Hamlett told WUNC.

For the state’s rural schools, it’s worse.

“We’re gonna potentially find ourselves August 29 with classrooms that are empty; 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 consists of only four schools. And it has six teaching vacancies to fill by Aug. 29 in math, English and social studies, among other subjects.

“We’ve interviewed candidates, but then candidates have selected other opportunities,” Sasscer said. “We’re at the place now where there are no longer candidates for these positions.”

As of Tuesday, Guilford County Schools still had 90 classroom vacancies, Director of Communications 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 deploying various recruitment strategies to recruit teachers, including signing bonuses.”

We should have known this was coming.

If you continue to tamp down the spigot, why would you expect water to still flow at the other of the hose?

And through our actions, or lack thereof, over the years, we have twisted the spigot slowly but surely in the wrong direction.

Our colleges and universities are educating fewer and fewer students in teacher education programs. Between 2010 and 2020, undergraduate enrollment in the UNC System’s teacher education programs fell by 44%.

Schools in North Carolina don’t pay enough.

If you are a teacher, days are long, nights sometimes longer.

You are both burdened and entrusted to handle whichever of society’s problems might walk through your classroom doors each day.

In the back of your mind you worry about violence and safety. You know school shootings are statistically rare. But you also know that they still can happen, anywhere, anytime.

And then there is the gratuitous nastiness that too many teachers have to put up with in today’s ferocious political climate:

Being vilified for wearing a mask or daring to teach remotely during the height of COVID-19.

Being accused of “grooming” or indoctrinating children.

Being pilloried near and far for promoting vile books and teaching critical race theory, even though you don’t.

The fact is some people are born to teach. It’s a gift, a passion, a mission.

But sometimes we seem to do all we can to dissuade them from it — to drive them to something more lucrative but less fulfilling. And probably less important.

So, it’s not just about money, though that still matters.

And as the state sits on a fat and healthy budget surplus, it underpays its teachers.

The numbers speak volumes:

Even with a 4% raise, public school teachers in North Carolina are making half the rate of inflation, which means they’re losing ground.

First-year teachers in the state make 17% less than their counterparts in Alabama.

North Carolina teachers with 35 years of experience make 23% less than their peers in Alabama. (No offense to Alabama, but that’s embarrassing.)

Average teacher pay in North Carolina public school is $10,000 less than the national average.

If there is any justice, the courts ultimately will rule that the state must remedy the underfunding of schools. The N.C. Supreme Court will soon hear the Leandro case, a 28-year-old lawsuit that rightly contends North Carolina has failed its constitutional mandate to provide a sound, basic education for all of its students. A judge already has ordered the state to fulfill that obligation but the legislature contends, essentially, that when it comes to funding, a judge can’t tell it what to do.

Meanwhile, the rest of us should do our part by supporting and appreciating teachers.

As sorely as they deserve better pay and more resources, they also probably wouldn’t mind hearing two simple but powerful words a little more often: Thank you.


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