Teachers share concerns over vacancies as the first day of school approaches

As of August 8, CMS is reporting 410 vacancies and UCPS is reporting 89.
It's happening across the country as more educators leave the classrooms
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 7:50 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The countdown to school is on but dozens of classrooms in some districts are still empty.

Staff vacancies aren’t unique to one particular district, it’s happening across North Carolina and the entire country.

In the two years following the start of pandemic, thousands of teachers have left the classroom behind pursuing new careers, more money, and better working conditions.

As the days and weeks pass, thousands of students will return, the question remains what happens if there aren’t enough teachers?

Related: Students and families dealing with safety concerns ahead of return to school

Mechelle Vaughn has 14 years of teaching experience, she is stepping into a new role during the 2022-2023 school year as an MTSS (multi-tiered system of support) interventionist with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Vaughn says her school was fully staffed up until January 2022 when the Omicron Variant of COVID-19 ran rampant causing dozens of staff absences.

She says the pattern of staff shortages didn’t stop there, not just in her school but across the district overall.

Since August 16, 2021, CMS says 1,925 teachers have left the district.

“You’ve got people leaving in droves,” Vaughn said.

The reasons vary from teachers changing districts, new career pursuits, seeking more money, and family matters to name a few.

“It really hurts students because they won’t have a qualified body in front of them,” Vaughn said. “It hurts the students who do have a teacher because those teachers are going to be asked to do much much more, to serve more.”

Elisa Mendez is a first-grade teacher and has three students in the district. She says the high number of vacancies isn’t surprising.

“It’s been a long time coming. This is a manufactured shortage that the North Carolina General Assembly has created and it’s only going to get worse,” Mendez said.

With less than three weeks before the first day of school, CMS has 410 teacher openings. Union County Public Schools has at least 89.

“UCPS has known about teacher shortages across the country for over a year. We had teacher vacancies all year in multiple schools in UCPS. Why would they wait until august to give an incentive,” an anonymous UCPS teacher shared.

On August 2, the UCPS Board of Education approved a $4,000 incentive payment for new and current teachers in hard-to-fill roles including English/ELA, math, science, and Exceptional Children’s classrooms.

This payment will go to staff members at Monroe High School, Monroe Middle School, Forest Hills High School, and East Union Middle School.

“$4,000 is a nice gesture but it doesn’t help everyone. It only applies to four schools in the county and not all [of the] staff members in those buildings. It’s almost like giving certain subjects more importance over others. It takes a whole school staff to run smoothly,” the UCPS teacher shared.

Many of these teachers are calling on local school boards, county commissioners, and most importantly state leaders to collaborate.

Vaughn says money isn’t the only issue that’s sending teachers out the door.

“Money isn’t the only issue it is an issue, it’s not the biggest issue. It’s the disrespect, it’s the workload, it’s the blame game,” Vaughn said.

Thousands of students are caught in the middle of the shortages. It could mean bigger classes, less personal support, and potentially – a heavier workload for current teachers.

“You’re going to be seeing bigger class sizes if we don’t have coverage for every grade level that’s going to be a problem,” Mendez said.

Paige Rouse is a CMS teacher too. She says the shortages are concerning and hopes true change happens for the sake of the children.

“Teaching and learning should be one of our nation’s highest priorities; however, over time respect for educators has decreased,” Rouse said “Also, educators haven’t been given the proper resources to carry out their duties. These factors have led us to where we are now, classrooms filled to capacity without a highly qualified teacher as the instructor.”

CMS also has multiple bonuses on the table including a $7500 bonus for CSI-designated Title I schools. In addition, CMS has a $5000 for non-CMS classroom teachers in the following areas English/ELA, math, science, and CTE. Those candidates must apply and be hired by August 25.

“I’m grateful to be getting a bonus, but I think the bonuses are just a bandaid and they’re not going to solve this problem long term,’ Mendez said.

Rouse believes long-term incentive bonuses should be implemented to retain veteran teachers.

“I know that Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools is doing all they can to attract highly qualified educators. The recruitment bonuses are a good incentive to attract teachers; however, I wonder how these bonuses are affecting the teachers who serve students without recruitment bonuses. Perhaps longevity incentives will make the recruitment bonuses more equitable,” Rouse said.

Despite the changes, they’re pressing on, hoping systemic changes happen for the sake of the students.

“The NC General Assembly really needs to get it together because there’s only so much that people can take,” Mendez said.

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