(3/3) I reviewed past NC DPI reports on the state of the teaching profession to compare vacancies for teaching in the state on the 40th day of school. One is not like the others. # accepted
2020-21: 3216 vacancies
– Liz Schlemmer (@LSchlemmer_WUNC) March 2, 2022
“Late last year, we lost a lot of teachers, and all last year people were throwing left and right or retiring early,” said Millie Rosen, a mathematics teacher at the Durham School of the Arts.
“You can’t teach in a building where you only have 75% of the adults you need to actually fully complete the building,” Rosen said. “You just can’t teach well.”
According to NC Department of Public Education reports across the countryteaching vacancies in schools last school year doubled compared to the previous year.
Teachers say these vacancies continue to grow this year, and the problem could be bigger than anyone expects by August.
Three members of the North Carolina Teachers Association, who are leaders in their local offices in Durham, Orange and Rockingham counties, spoke about staffing problems – and possible solutions – at a recent episode from the proven WUNC podcast.
Here are excerpts from their conversations …
High school English teacher; President of the Orange County Teachers Association
“From what I hear, it seems like everyone is interviewing for another job, looking for another job,” Clark said.
Clark spoke with WUNC in September about all the additional stress that teachers experienced this school year, due to the lack of teachers to replace, constant precautions against COVID-19 and staff shortages.
She says she personally knows more than 10 teachers who are dropping out of school by the end of this school year – some for early retirement, some for higher paying jobs. Clark says it is a common joke among teachers that in order to achieve middle class with family, one needs to “marry the rich”.
“If you’re going to be a teacher, you’re going to have to marry a man who earns more than you,” Clark said. “My male friends who work in teaching are never breadwinners.”
Clark remains. This is her plan. She had moments when she was thinking of leaving class, but “not seriously,” she says.
“But there are many factors – for example, if I lose some things, such as the people I love and work with. It’s a big blow to my psyche and can make me want to leave,” Clark said.
She wants the public to know what is happening before more teachers leave the profession.
The Orange County Teachers Association interviewed its members in the fall to ask what would persuade them to stay at their jobs.
“The main thing they said was payment,” Clark said.
Therefore, local school boards have applied for bonuses this year to retain staff. In Orange County, teachers advocated for a maintenance bonus, and the council allocated it for $ 1,200.
Primary School Media Specialist; President of the Rockingham County Teachers Association
School districts have tens of millions of dollars in federal aid to combat COVID, and many are directing at least part of that funding to conservation bonuses. But in some counties these bonuses appeared only after teachers fought for them. Spencer knows this by hearsay.
“At the October board meeting, our head expressed the idea that we should get a $ 250 bonus, and they were going to split that bonus into two payouts,” Spencer said. “It made everyone talk.”
“It was like a slap,” Spencer said. “$ 250 really felt like we weren’t valued at all as employees, and I just heard a lot of people were very disappointed – they wanted to leave – because in the nearby counties they were getting more money.”
Spencer hails from Rockingham County, and has spent most of her 26-year career in education, but she knows the county must compete for teachers with higher-paying counties in all areas, including Virginia. She says teachers can get a job across the border and see their salaries grow by thousands of dollars.
“We started distributing a petition asking for a $ 4,000 bonus for all employees, and within a week we received 300 signatures under the petition,” Spencer said.
Bus drivers, security guards and teachers of the school came to the library to sign the petition. Many had stories of financial problems, including one single mother.
“She wrote about how hard it is to make ends meet, pay rent, pay for gasoline to get to and from work, pay for child care,” Spencer said. “She said one thing that would really help her in her situation was to get bonuses, get a little more money.”
That school employee was a teacher early in her career.
“Teachers’ starting salaries are 30,000,” Spencer said. “If you’re trying to make $ 30,000 and you have kids, it’s not that far off.”
Spencer tried to convey this message to the school board. At this meeting, the Rockingham County School Board voted to give all school staff two bonuses of $ 2,000.
“I felt they really appreciated our opinion,” Spencer said. “It definitely boosted the loyalty we feel to the county.”
Local teacher associations across the state have asked for bonuses or modest salary increases for the lowest paid employees – and many school boards have responded – but teachers are also looking for longer-term solutions.
7th grade math teacher; Secretary of the Durham Teachers’ Association
“I don’t think there are any long-term solutions at the county level,” Rosen said. “The biggest threats come from the state level and the lack of funding for education in general.”
Rosen said she appreciates that the Durham School Board has responded to a petition by the Durham Teachers Association and approved more than $ 4,000 in bonuses for staff members.
“I think the school board is doing its best with what it has,” Rosen said, but she’s not sure those bonuses are enough to get teachers to stay.
“I’m very concerned, now I have a few colleagues who, as I know, are thinking about leaving, just because it was so hard this year,” Rosen said.
About 18% of teachers in public schools in Durham have left this year, according to Alvera Lesana, assistant district head of human resources. By the end of the year, the district estimates that one in five teachers may disappear.
Rosen says these funding and staffing problems are not new, but during the pandemic they got worse.
“We’ve been like frogs in slow-boiling water for the last 10 years, and then the temperature has gone up a lot over the last couple of years,” Rosen said.
All three educators recalled that schools have lost through policy changes – funding for teaching assistants and training, additional payments for teachers with a master’s degree, seniority payments to veteran teachers and retirement benefits.
“Without additional support and additional resources, not only payment, but also resources in general, more staff in buildings, staff, school supplies, classrooms, renovated buildings … professionals, all this. We can not do our job without it,” – said Rosen.
Rosen wants to stay in class for a long time, but she says it’s getting harder.
“I’d really like to just teach math for 30 years,” Rosen said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be sustainable, just because of all the different factors that complicate my work, and that’s true for many other people.”
We will take a closer look at teacher change and its impact on schools and children in a future series at WUNC.
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