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Budget cuts are not helping this problem

The folks at Public News Service highlighted an often underreported story this morning that confronts public school administrators at this time of year: the difficulty that schools have in attracting and retaining good teachers — especially in math and science.  The story focuses on the special challenges confronting poorer, rural districts, but as even the folks in bigger urban districts like Wake and Mecklenburg can readily attest, it is a statewide problem.

So, how could this be? Aren’t we in the midst of a prolonged period of high unemployment? Aren’t would-be teachers happy to have any job?

Well, it’s not quite that simple.  Several factors tend to work against stability in teacher employment. These include the following:

  • Teaching is hard. A lot of people try it for a while but quickly tire of the long hours, tough conditions and low pay.
  • Job hopping is common. Like workers in other stressful professions, teachers re always on the lookout for a better gig (a better district, a better school, a better situation). Many young teachers take jobs in rural counties to get their feet in the door and then leave for larger urban areas as soon as they get some experience to make them more marketable.
  • Low pay and lack of respect. Especially in recent years as teacher pay and training subsidies have declined and public blame and attacks from politicians have mounted, many teachers and would-be teachers have simply said “the hell with it” and sought other careers.  

There are undoubtedly other factors as well. But the bottom line seems to be this: North Carolina will never generate and maintain the large cadre of committed, highly skilled teachers that it desperately needs — especially in poorer rural districts — unless it undertakes direct and intentional action. This means better training, better financial incentives, better facilities, better working conditions and better support. Sure, we should expect more from teachers and hold them accountable for their work, but, in the long run, it is fantasy to think (as the current legislative leadership does) that we can get the results our state needs by simply demanding it.

As today’s news story reminds us, budget cuts to education are not helping and will not help with what ought to be one of the state’s top priorities: developing and retaining good teachers. Ultimately, unless we devote more public resources to this challenge — a lot more — teachers will simply vote with their feet.

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