Nancy Hilburn, an ESL teacher at Northside Elementary School, has worked in elementary schools for nearly 19 years, but this year has been the toughest.
With a recent increase in teaching vacancies, Hilburn has had to take on more responsibility — and she’s noticed her fatigue setting in.
“This job is exhausting,” she says.
In an effort to combat her fatigue, Hilburn said she tries to exercise more, eat well and sleep well. But, she says, she can only do these things because she doesn’t have additional responsibilities such as parenting outside of school.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like for people with young children,” Hilburn said.
She is not alone in her experiences.
North Carolina is experiencing a shortage of teachers in all core elementary school subjects, as many teachers have considered quitting their jobs — or have already done so — throughout the pandemic. The state also faces a shortage of substitute teachers to fill vacant classroom positions.
According to data from the State Board of Education, about 8.2% of teachers left their jobs in North Carolina public schools during the 2020-21 school year. While the direct impact of the pandemic on this number is unclear, the state report indicates that the number of teachers who did not select one of the standard responses for reasons for leaving increased by 117.21%.
Teacher shortages have also been a nationwide issue throughout the pandemic, as teachers have been forced to adapt to remote and blended learning, and other related operational changes. to COVID-19.
Nationwide, nearly one in four teachers responded that they were likely to leave their job by the end of the school year, according to results from the 2021 State of Teachers in the States Survey. -United.
According to the survey, teachers reported higher levels of stress and frequent work-related symptoms of depression than the general adult population. The results of another survey conducted by the EdWeek research center showed that more than 70% of teachers perceive their morale to be lower than before the pandemic.
“Teachers have always had too much to do,” Hilburn said. “But COVID and going back to school with kids who haven’t been in person for an entire year has put us all in a different position.”
Shortage of teachers at CHCCS
CHCCS has vacancies among certified and classified employees across grade levels, facilities, and offices.
Among the certified employee positions, there were 87 vacancies as of March 1, according to data from CHCCS communications director Andy Jenks. For classified employee positions, there were 117 vacant positions.
In addition, as of March 1, 12 hirings of certified employees were in progress and 14 hirings of classified employees were in progress.
Myles Aitken, a math teacher at Carrboro High School, said the vacancies not only impact the responsibilities of other teachers, but also the ability of students to learn effectively, especially those who need attention. practice.
“The burden of what that person might do is on other people,” Aitken said. “And if not, for the student, it’s okay.”
Jacob Hewgley, who is also a math teacher at Carrboro High School, said teaching is stressful work — and COVID-19 has brought additional challenges.
“Teaching is a pretty stressful job in general,” Hewgley said. “Adding in the pandemic and people’s health factors and what their family life is like at home and their stress levels around the pandemic, I think it just skyrocketed.”
CHCCS elementary schools have been hardest hit by these vacancies. Of the 87 certified employee vacancies in the district, 22 are in elementary schools.
Hilburn echoed Aitken’s sentiment, saying that when teachers have to take on outside responsibilities, students’ learning experiences are affected.
“You get frustrated when you can’t meet your kids as much as you want,” she said. “Because you know the need is there. You know the children need you.
William Richards, a science teacher at Chapel Hill High School and a member of the science department’s recruiting committee, said giving bonuses, allocating classrooms to every teacher, and creating a culture of sound teaching could help recruit more people into the profession.
“A lot of applicants will ask about our teaching culture,” Richards said. “What’s going on with the science teachers? Do we have a good relationship? Luckily we do that in the science department. We’re all pretty friendly, and a lot of us are real friends and hang around outside of school.
Strategies to improve teacher recruitment, Hilburn said, should include improving education departments at universities, restoring teacher pay and providing better benefits.
She said creating a work environment with fewer demands outside of teaching would help reduce fatigue.
Brian Gibbs, a clinical assistant professor at the UNC School of Education, said teacher morale would be most positively impacted by allowing teachers to do their job – teaching children.
“Let them teach,” Gibbs said. “Give them what they need to teach, support what they do, ask for what they need, provide what they need, talk about fair resources.”
He said the pandemic has exacerbated the stress on teachers trying to maintain test scores, which he says should not be used as monitors of student achievement.
He said it’s more important to focus on students’ health and well-being rather than standardized test scores.
For North Carolina teachers, including experienced ones like Hilburn, COVID-19 has brought with it a myriad of unique, unexpected, and exhausting challenges.
“Teaching is such a difficult and physically demanding job, that when it suddenly becomes more difficult, and you have to learn a lot of new things and put them in place and practice them quickly, it’s stressful,” said Hilburn.
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