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Teacher vacancies in North Carolina increase dramatically, but there’s a catch

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  • The number of teachers leaving the profession in North Carolina was down in the 2021-22 school year from the year before, but vacancies increased dramatically. But there's a caveat to that increase.
  • “What has changed is we’ve enforced the methodology that’s prescribed in law," said DPI's Thomas Tomberlin about #nced vacancies. Read more about the report released this week.
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Teacher attrition was down in North Carolina’s public schools for the 2021-22 school year, according to a new report from the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). At the same time, teacher vacancies went up dramatically. But there is a caveat: a vacancy doesn’t mean there is nobody in the position.

The State Board of Education heard a presentation on the report — which will go on to the General Assembly — at this week’s meeting. Tom Tomberlin, the senior director of educator preparation, licensure, and performance at DPI, told the Board that positions are considered vacant if the person in the position isn’t considered to be in a permanent placement.

Under the methodology, retired teachers, interim teachers, long-term substitutes, and teachers with an emergency or provisional license or a permit to teach would not count as being in a permanent placement.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that this may be construed as there’s this massive increase in the number of vacancies across the state,” he said. “What has changed is we’ve enforced the methodology that’s prescribed in law.”

Tomberlin said that the state statute that dictates how DPI must measure vacancies was changed a few years back and that DPI has been working with districts to make sure vacancies are being measured correctly.

“What we’ve been doing with our schools is really being prescriptive in how we measure vacancies, and it has to follow the law,” he said. “We’ve been working with our districts to really understand what the law says about this.”

So, an increase in rates could be real, could be because of a change in methodology, or it could be a combination of both.

During a previous presentation on Wednesday, Tomberlin showed that there are 3,660 permits to teach, or emergency licenses, held in North Carolina.

Slide from the State Board of Education meeting

With that caveat, the presentation showed that there were 5,540.36 instructional vacancies on the first day of school, up from 3,792.1 the previous year — a 46% increase. On the 40th day of school, there were 5,091.46 instructional vacancies, up from 3,213.9 — a 58% increase from the previous year.

Overall, for the 2021-22 school year, there were roughly 94,083 teacher positions reported in North Carolina districts.

Teacher vacancies are most pronounced in core subjects like Math, English language arts, science, and social studies.

Slide from the State Board of Education meeting


For the 2021-22 school year, the number of teachers leaving the state’s public schools was 7,298, down from 7,736 the year before.

While teacher attrition is going down, it is still higher than it was before COVID-19 hit, but not by much. Tomberlin said it had basically fallen to around where it was before the pandemic after an uptick during the worst of COVID-19.

“Attrition in the state of North Carolina is one of the most stable metrics that we have,” Tomberlin said. “It is annually right around the same number every year.” 

Slide from the State Board of Education meeting

According to the presentation, beginning teachers are far more likely to leave the state’s public schools than experienced teachers.

“My fear is that we are not taking good enough care of our beginning teachers to ensure that they will persist in the profession,” Tomberlin said.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said that attrition among beginning teachers has been in the double digits for years. She said that beginning teachers need more support, and she pointed to the work that DPI and the State Board is doing to enact a licensure reform pilot: Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t remind Board members that our Pathways work, part of its goal is to provide the support that beginning teachers need,” she said.

Slide from the State Board of Education meeting

The majority of teachers leaving the profession in North Carolina listed personal reasons as the rationale for the move. The number of teachers leaving for personal reasons is down from the previous year, as is the number leaving at the initiation of their school district or for reasons beyond the control of the school district.

However, the number of teachers who listed “other reasons” is up.

Slide from the State Board of Education meeting

The Sandhills region of the state saw the largest attrition rate in the state, with the North Central Region having the second highest rate.

“There is wide variation across the state in how (attrition) is impacting individual districts,” Tomberlin said.

Slide from the State Board of Education meeting

You can see the presentation on the report below or by clicking here. You can see the full report to the General Assembly here.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.