Teachers are an incredibly important piece in shaping a child into who they will be in the future. Post COVID-19, many teachers are considering leaving the workforce. North Carolina struggles more than most states regarding teacher shortages, providing little to no teacher support. North Carolina needs to direct more attention to keeping teachers in the workplace.
During elementary and middle school years, children “learn the basic skills that provide them with a foundation for a successful life”. Not only does proper schooling provide a basis of knowledge that students require, but it also teaches critical life skills. Teachers are needed to ensure the success of students and future generations, but these teachers are leaving, and they are doing so quickly. In fact, 48% of educators say, “they have considered quitting within the last 30 days”, and 30% “say they are thinking about leaving the profession entirely”.
According to a study done by Schoolaroo in late 2022, North Carolina is the 11th worst state in terms of teacher shortages, facing 6,300 vacancies in the Piedmont area alone. Base salary is extremely low in NC, with entry level pay being $38,000, averaging around $10,000 lower than the higher paying states like New York. Similarly, COVID-19 had drastic effects on NC teacher retention in the workforce. Teachers struggled with making up for the “learning loss” seen in students upon returning post-pandemic, spiking stress levels for teachers and decreasing their desire to be in the classroom. Moreso than other states, “North Carolina saw a particularly alarming trend of more teachers leaving mid-school year”.
“Without teachers, prosperity and success might only be aspirational ideals”, as school is the only place many students find support. When teachers leave mid-year, they cause students to feel neglected, and alternatively decrease their participation “leading to a drop in their grades and test scores”. At Neal Middle School, a title one school in Durham that struggles with teacher retention, students don’t participate, they talk back to their teachers, and they often don’t try. Students have come to resent their teachers, purposely giving little to no effort and disrespecting them behind their back. From my experience working at Neal, I believe this attitude is a direct result of students not having a stable classroom environment, always having a substitute or teacher assistant filling in. Teacher layover is higher in these underprivileged schools, which are “more likely to have vacancies” due to the lack of money and resources present. Minority students who live in these communities tend to have a worse educational experience, leading to less success than their white counterparts and highlighting a large structural inequality within the teacher shortage issue.
So where do we go from here? The ideal solution would be to increase teacher pay in North Carolina. This is a difficult solution to imagine, however. Current educational funding comes from the federal, state, and local governments meaning that different regions across North Carolina get different allocations of money. To increase teacher pay equitably, a new baseline for allotting resources would need to be enforced by government officials at a higher level, which is likely less attainable than a state intervention.
A more feasible solution to this dilemma might lie in things the pandemic taught us. Remote learning was a tool used when students could not be in person, and even today, many students still utilize applications like Zoom. What if we provided more opportunities for teachers to use remote learning techniques? By allowing teachers to use remote learning when they cannot be in the classroom, more teachers might be willing to staying in the field. Some rural schools in NC are already starting to implement this, and are seeing fast results in the form of more high quality teachers remaining in the field. Giving teachers more option, rather than forcing them to feel stuck, provides more reason for a teacher to continue teaching.
We must find ways to incentivize our NC teachers. The NC Board of Education should ponder the question about what “benefits” could look like if pay is not an option. Maybe this is giving more freedoms, like access to remote learning, or maybe there needs to be more intensive criteria in interviews with teachers, seeking out the right people for the job. Whatever it is, we need to do something, and do it fast. The kids need the teachers, the kids need us.
Amaya Hanley is from Davidson, NC and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.