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Teacher shortage plagues schools

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Tim Finn, an eighth-grade science teacher, left, helps student Johnathan Cowart with note taking Thursday at Southern Nash Middle School in Spring Hope.

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

NASHVILLE — As some parents in the Nash-Rocky Mount school district struggle to understand why their students are being taught by a string of substitutes in some classrooms rather than by permanent teachers, district leaders led a discussion about the difficulty of obtaining teachers during a recent Parent Advisory Committee meeting in Nashville. 

Donita Privott, executive director of human resources for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, led the discussion about the teacher shortage in the school district.

“In my opinion, being a teacher is one of the most rewarding professions ever and it is the profession that makes all other professions happen. The teacher shortage we are facing is not just in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools or in North Carolina but is across the nation,” she said.

Privott said part of the reason for the shortage is the declining interest of high school graduates in the teaching profession.

“Since 2010, there has been a decline in students who are majoring in education in college,” Privott said. “Enrollment has decreased 30 percent nationwide and 41 percent within the University of North Carolina System.”

During the past two academic years, education has dropped out of the top five professions attracting college students, she said. These popular majors now include business and marketing, health-related professions, social services, biological and biomedical sciences and communications and journalism, Privott said.

The decline in teachers training for the profession has affected three areas of education profoundly — math, science and special education, Privott said. 

“This makes it hard to fill some of our vacancies,” Privott said. “There is strong competition for these teacher education graduates and many are attracted to larger school districts with higher local supplements.”

Teacher pay is another factor affecting teacher hiring in the state, Privott said. In North Carolina, beginning base teacher pay — before local supplements and benefits — is $35,000 and the average base teacher salary is $50,861.

“Our neighboring states are paying higher, which makes it difficult to attract teachers,” Privott said.

North Carolina ranks 37th in the nation in teacher pay, Privott said.

Another reason for the decline in teachers was the decision by the state legislature to no longer pay added incentives for graduate level degrees. This decision has caused enrollment in master’s level programs in education to decline by 25 percent in the UNC system, Privott said.

“Many educators viewed this as a lack of respect and unfair,” she added.

Other factors include the difficulty in attracting teachers from other states and the looming end of the lateral entry program in the state.

“North Carolina  does not recognize licences form other states immediately and requires additional testing. This makes it difficult to attract teachers from other states,” Privott said. “And the lateral entry program, which is a pathway for teachers who have a non-education degree, ends on June 30.”

For now, the school district is relying on substitutes and long-term substitutes to fill some of the vacancies that crop up in the district. District leaders try to use certified teachers, such as retired teachers, as long-term substitutes. However, state laws regarding the number of hours these teachers can work before it affects their retirement benefits and federal laws limiting a substitute to working less than 30 hours a week so they don’t qualify for benefits hamper some of these efforts at consistency in the classroom. 

To serve as a substitute in the Nash-Rocky Mount school district, a candidate must hold or be eligible to hold a valid teaching license or be a former teacher assistant in good standing with the school district or have evidence of the completion of a high school diploma and have completed the Effective Teacher Training course offered by a state community college or the online App Garden University, Privott said. They must also complete additional online training in the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools Instructional Framework.

The school district currently has 122 licensed substitutes and 302 who have completed the Effective Teacher training program.

Privott said the school district is taking several steps to recruit more teachers, including transitioning student teachers into vacant positions in their licensure area when they are close to graduation, attending education career fairs at various colleges and forming partnerships with alternate teacher education agencies. Current teacher assistants are also being urged to participate in a Teacher Assistant to Teacher Pilot Program at Nash Community College.

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