A flow chart is making its way around the state that claims to be the pathway to address the teacher shortage in our state. To be clear, there are many folks in North Carolina who have teaching certification. What we have is a lack of folks wanting to teach in North Carolina.
As a parent of two elementary students and a veteran NC teacher who has witnessed “teacher flight” for ten years, I’m concerned that the group who created the plan above mislabels the problem as one sourced in licensure complexity and as a result has devised a proposal that won’t provide a “qualified and well-prepared teacher in every classroom” as required by our state to offer a “sound, basic education.”
There are some redeeming qualities of this plan, but it’s odd that the proposed solution adds to the complexity of the teacher pipeline when its stated goal is to simplify it.
This plan also institutionalizes the current triage model that is burning out the same highly-qualified, highly-effective educators we most want to keep as they’re called on to support classrooms lacking qualified classroom teachers.
As a parent, my biggest concern with this plan is that it is akin to allowing someone to drive a school bus who understands how to use the brake pedal OR gas pedal, not both. It says someone can lead a classroom if they have either industry experience or a Bachelor’s degree. This prioritizes content knowledge but is incomplete when a teacher must also understand kids, not just content.
If someone is driving my kids’ learning, that person should not just understand content for themselves, but have training on how to effectively foster this development in others, as well as an understanding of the unique developmental needs of young people. On-the-job training with kids in the backseat isn’t fair to the person wanting to join the profession, or the students.
The recently shared flow chart’s “residency” approach to teaching is promising, but a simpler pathway is possible that respects students’ rights to work directly with qualified classroom leaders instead of the “grapevine” approach it proposes.
In the spirit of solution-oriented advocacy, below is a proposal to refill the teacher pipeline by recruiting, retaining, and motivating former classroom leaders to return.
It can be as easy as ABC: Apprentice, Beginner, Career.
While the pandemic has exacerbated staffing issues, it did not create the problem. Teachers in NC were already leaving the profession and NC educator preparation programs were already experiencing declines before the pandemic. The “shortage” was manufactured by state-level policies long before COVID. The barriers to entry have less to do with current licensure requirements that are common in all 50 states, but the decline in support for policies and programs designed to support a strong teacher pipeline in North Carolina.
Barriers to entry include the following:
- Cuts to NC Teaching Fellows that supported high school students in pursuing education degrees
- Over 7,000 Teaching Assistants cut, reducing the paraprofessional to professional pipeline
- Wages below market pay offered for roles requiring similar credentials
- First state to eliminate Master’s degree pay harming recruitment of out-of-state candidates
- Elimination of state health insurance in retirement for new hires as of January 2021
- Salary schedule annually subjected to politics
- Student teachers pay to receive practical experience
I recall the days of student teaching both part-time and full-time and paying to receive this experience. I also took night classes and squeezed in part-time employment to buy groceries. Some of my colleagues in the program were career changers and had families to support. Some never became colleagues because of cost impediments.
A co-teacher model that offers teacher candidates wages for the support they provide while gaining practical experience would support the pipeline not only in NC, but nationwide. In our quest to make our mark in pathways to teacher candidacy, this is a worthy idea.
The flowchart proposal places those with subject knowledge immediately in the classroom where students have access to a qualified educator vicariously, as suggested in License 1 & 2 pathways. Instead, we should merge those segments into a co-teacher experience so students have direct access to someone with content and pedagogy qualifications while the co-teacher gains the initial content and pedagogy skills as they prepare to lead their own classroom.
The ABC model also supports students in need of additional adult support in mastering skills and content while also developing adults’ skills in working with them.
Extending the opportunity for teachers beyond grades K-3 to have a co-pilot in the classroom would help alleviate the impacts of class size caps that were removed for grades 4-12.
This is a win-win-win for the teacher candidate, students and current teachers.
The co-teacher model is not a new one – we know them as teacher assistants. Nearly all current teacher assistants in NC work with either grades K-3 or support special education programs K-12.
At a time when our state is particularly focused on literacy instruction among our youngest learners, and teacher shortages in special education, we can and should do more to take advantage of these paraprofessional roles to transition into professional teacher licenses.
Restoring over 7,000 teacher assistant roles cut statewide would support the pipeline by creating opportunities for more folks to dip their toe in the education profession while supporting the work of students and teachers. We can grow our own, but need to reinvest in this existing co-teacher model as a pathway to full licensure.
Strong support for beginning teachers is essential for retention. This support comes best in the form of time and mentorship. The current trend is to offer assistance in the form of scripted curriculum that squanders an opportunity for new teachers to bring their full selves into the classroom with creativity and application of their understanding of pedagogy and content.
New teachers need opportunities to learn from and contribute to their peers, and create their identity as a teacher in order to form bonds that will keep them in the classroom. They also need a competitive salary to attract them into teaching instead of pursuing other opportunities. Anything short of that perpetuates teacher turnover and continues the “shortage.”
Whereas the flowchart plan prioritizes off-ramps for those not meeting expectations, in my experience the larger problem contributing to the current “shortage” is keeping great teachers from taking off-ramps because of lack of support. This is true for both beginning and veteran teachers.
The flowchart model looks at beginning teacher development as an “extra” piece instead of one that could be within the school day by allowing beginning educators and their mentors opportunities for reflection, observation, and support. While it may seem counterproductive to alleviate a current teacher shortage by offering new teachers the opportunity for additional professional development time in place of another period of student instruction, it is a strategy that would support that new teacher in remaining in the classroom for years to come. Recruitment without retention results in a revolving door and will fail to address the “shortage.“
The flowchart above states it “Allows teachers to serve students at increased capacity” for “significantly increased salary.” Highly qualified teachers are currently serving more students beyond their assigned caseload as they take over classes with no teacher or support new or temporary folks in other classrooms. There are current stipends for mentors, department and grade level chairs, but these small stipends don’t reflect the additional responsibilities associated with these roles. It is on track to increase pay for those roles, but adequate pay is a misaligned love language in our state.
Adding responsibilities without carving out time is the current triage model burning out our best folks helping to keep learning afloat. More pay for these roles is needed but time within the current school day to support developing teachers and their students must be part of the package.
It is also worth noting barriers to retention regardless of pipeline pathways, or opportunities for advanced roles:
- NC education policy is dominated by non-educators and educators lacking recent classroom experience
- Longevity pay rewarding retention was eliminated
- Removal of class size caps for grades 4-12
- Salary schedule subjected to annual political theater
- Salary schedule that freezes pay steps of teachers in years 15-24, and again 25+
- Salary schedule that doesn’t keep up with inflation, betraying the purchasing power of the schedule teachers “signed up for”
Regardless of any plan selected, there are still immediate staffing needs. Lifting the 6-month retirement waiting period and other barriers to former teachers re-entering classrooms would be preferable to placing inexperienced folks in classrooms.
As a state boasting an $8 billion “surplus” built in large part by shortchanging our students, it would be refreshing for our state to reinvest this money into creating the schools our students deserve by restoring the teacher pipeline that we need.
As a state boasting the most National Board Certified Teachers in the nation, we should do better to take advantage of our talented teachers in the best ways, instead of taking advantage in the worst ways.
The flowchart making its way around the state has potential to maximize the talent of educators in a way that retains them and recruits others into the profession but is in need of revisions to ensure its intent matches its impact, and insources professional development for fiscal prudence.
In many cases, what is most needed is reinvestment in what has worked historically to recruit and retain talent as well as new ideas to ensure a “qualified and well-prepared teacher in every classroom.” There has been a lot of outsourcing of education policy, curriculum, assessments, professional development, etc. The flowchart includes a “Professional Advancement Account” which presumably allows for payment to outside entities for skill development exhibited by other teachers within the same building. Given these previous inadequate attempts at support, perhaps asking folks on the outside how to keep folks inside isn’t helpful.
There’s no shortage of suggestions current NC teachers can offer to address staffing needs. We’d love for folks to ask.
Most importantly, we’d love for folks to listen.