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North Carolina's State of the Teaching Profession report, released earlier this month, shows statewide teacher attrition was 11.5 percent during the 2022-23 school year, an increase from 7.8 percent the year before. Beginning teachers — who are in their first three years of teaching — have an attrition rate of 15.1 percent.

Thomas Tomberlin, the senior director of educator preparation, performance and licensure for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said the number of teachers leaving the profession for personal reasons, including family responsibilities or career changes, increased.

Between 2017 and 2023, there was a 23 percent statewide increase in teachers entering the profession through alternative licensure routes.

Ruben Reyes, the associate superintendent for human resources for Cumberland County Schools, said there are fewer teachers coming into the profession from traditional education programs. According to the report, the district has one of the highest attrition rates in the state.

“When you have these individuals that are beginning teachers, they're not only trying to learn the pedagogy of teaching, they're also going back to school at the same time,” he said. “So when you hear teacher stress and teacher burnout, those are things that contribute to that.”

Courtney Currin is the executive director of human resources and the public information officer for Granville County Schools, which also has one of the highest attrition rates in the state.

Currin said licensing and professional development requirements can be a burden on beginning teachers. She said those requirements should be reevaluated with the understanding that more teachers are entering the profession from nontraditional routes.

As a smaller district, Currin said, GCS does not have enough instructional coaches to support beginning teachers. Many of the schools with high attrition rates are in rural counties, Tamika Walker Kelly, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said.

“In our rural counties, especially in places where they have seen a decline in economic development, they are also struggling to recruit and retain high-quality educators,” she said. “They are not able to offer the same sort of incentives, like a higher teacher supplement, than some other counties in the state."

Cumberland County Schools 2024 Teacher of the Year Steven Barbour said, in his opinion, the number one factor causing attrition is teacher pay. He said that many of his friends who are not in the education profession can tolerate workplace issues because they know they are being compensated well.

"That's just simply not the case in education,” he said. “And a lot of people, especially young teachers, don't see a future in it.”

Currin also said high attrition rates and teacher vacancies are connected. Last school year, Granville County Schools consistently had about 50 teacher vacancies, she said, which meant many students had a certified teacher online, but not in their classroom. She said in these situations, students do not have a teacher they feel connected with, which creates a lack of stability.

Bailey Cody, a beginning teacher in Alexander County Schools — which has one of the lower teacher attrition rates in the state — said the district incorporates monthly professional development for beginning teachers into their schedules, which has been helpful for her.

Other strategies ACS uses to reduce attrition and support beginning teachers include surveying teachers to identify areas of improvement and help from instructional coaches, she said.

The North Carolina Advanced Teaching Roles program, which identifies highly effective teachers and pays them a stipend to mentor beginning teachers, shows promise in addressing the lack of mentors that some districts struggle with, Tomberlin said.

Kelly said  there are tangible things lawmakers can do to support teachers and reduce attrition, including establishing competitive pay, increasing classroom resources, mental health support and teacher assistants — but she said the legislature simply lacks the political will to implement them. 

“The community at large should be alarmed by these numbers,” she said. "And they should be calling on lawmakers more. We all want our students to have positive experiences and they cannot do this if they don't have educators in their classrooms."

@Lucymarques_ | @Sarahhclements

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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