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Teachers reflect as vacancies, attrition in NC education system continue


DTH Photo Illustration. The N.C. State of the Teacher Profession Survey for 2021-22 reveals high rates of attrition and teacher vacancies. Teachers say the job's demands aren't reflected in their paychecks.

According to recent data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, teachers are leaving the classroom at rates comparable to previous years. 

The data shows that North Carolina's teacher attrition rate was 7.78 percent during the 2021-2022 school year, down about half a percentage point from the 2020-2021 school year and only slightly higher than the attrition rate in 2019-2020. 

Attrition rate refers to the reduction in the number of employees at the state or local education level. The average attrition rate across the state between 2016 and 2021 was 8.18 percent.

Thomas Tomberlin is the senior director of educator preparation, licensure and performance at NCDPI. During February's State Board of Education meeting, Tomberlin said there was a 46 percent increase in teacher vacancies on the first day of school and about a 58 percent increase in teacher vacancies on the 40th day of school relative to the previous year.

The difference might not represent an actual change in vacancy rates, but a change in reporting methodology to more accurately reflect the state of the teaching profession, he said.

Milca Sanchez-Colop, a third-grade teacher at Fuquay-Varina Elementary School, said the hardest part of being a teacher is needing expertise in multiple fields, such as school psychology and social-emotional behavior.

“I think that sometimes we just take on a little more than we have to, and we feel the silent pressure that we just put on ourselves," she said.

Despite the joys, Sanchez-Colop said she left teaching for a year — initially not planning to return.

“The student body needed a lot of help emotionally and academically,” she said. “It can be taxing because I was constantly thinking, ‘What do I need to do to help them move quicker and not fall so far behind?’”

Courtney Morton, an exceptional children's teacher at Anson High School, said she considers the financial pressure of teaching to be one of her biggest stresses.

“I'm a single person; I have no children, no spouse and just trying to live a fulfilled life is hard under the financial stress and strain of being a teacher,” Morton said.

Though Morton said she could work in another field that pays more, she enjoys the relationships with her students and the sense of fulfillment that comes with teaching them.

When students learn about teachers' low salaries, Morton said the students recognize that their teachers care about their work.

The shortage of certified staff in schools sometimes leads to extra responsibilities for those that remain, she said, making their job even more demanding.

Morton said the state's attrition rate this year is lower than she expected, based on what she’s seen in teacher groups. She said it should be viewed as a state issue — rather than a district-based issue.

North Carolina does not offer teachers increased pay for having a master's degree, which Morton said affects teaching ability.

"(Education-specific pay) would be a draw for people to work in North Carolina or to stay as a teacher," Morton said. "And then, generally adjusting the pay scale and the pay for teachers would be a major thing to keep people employed."

Heather Campbell, a beginning teacher support coordinator and social-emotional coordinator for Anson County Schools, said the students are the best part of the job. She has been in education for 29 years. 

"It's always been about students," she said. 

While Campbell has never seriously considered leaving the profession, she said its low pay made her think twice in her early years.

She said teachers are striving to help students succeed, despite the difficulties of the job. 

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"They're working extremely hard,” Campbell said. “And I just would like to see people — the public or legislature — just give more support, support teachers more and make them feel appreciated and valued.”


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