From an editorial Thursday in the Durham Herald-Sun:
University and state education officials had a warning for the State Board of Education last week:
Many school districts in North Carolina have trouble recruiting enough classroom teachers, and that problem is likely to broaden and deepen. The reason? The state’s schools of education are turning out fewer future teachers.
Enrollment in the University of North Carolina’s 15 such schools has dropped by 30 percent since the beginning of this decade. Historically, those schools have produced the majority of the state’s new teachers, so the drop promises a thinning field of newly minted teachers for the state’s elementary, middle and high schools.
“The challenge in hiring teachers is going to increase,” The News and Observer quoted Alisa Chapman, UNC system vice president for academic and university programs, as telling the board.
The U.S. Department of Education, which annually publishes a state-by-state report on teacher shortages, lists four areas of shortage in North Carolina – special education (a chronic deficit nationwide), middle and high school math and high school science.
To be fair, some recent years have seen a longer list of shortage areas in North Carolina. And many states are faring far worse than we are – South Carolina, for example, is listed as having teacher shortages in nearly two dozen subjects, from art to world education.
But the sharp decline in education school enrollment is a likely bellwether of greater shortages to come. The state board heard Wednesday that many districts are now having trouble finding not only middle and high school teachers, but elementary school teachers as well.
And struggling districts in economically hard-hit areas such as many of those in the northeastern part of the state face the greatest difficulty of all.
The decline in interest should be no surprise, given the pummeling the teaching profession has taken in recent years. Pay, lack of respect and lack of time for professional development, State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson told the N & O, are major factors in turning young people away.
The board’s chairman, Bill Cobey, also pointed to a cultural emphasis on “making a lot of money as opposed to making a difference.”
There’s truth, sadly, in Cobey’s observation. There’s little our state leaders can do about that.
But what they can do is make substantive moves toward boosting teacher pay, cool the rhetoric that seems to blame teachers for the myriad challenges facing school success and stop whipsawing from one high-stakes and ill advised testing program to another.
We don’t want to contemplate empty desks in the front of our classrooms.