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The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the Feb. 27, 2021 broadcast of Education Matters: “A Qualified and Well-Prepared Teacher in Every Classroom.

For more, read this perspective from Jennie Bryan, 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund NC Southeast Regional Teacher of the Year, on how to get a keep a highly-qualified teacher in every North Carolina classroom.


When you think about your own education, it is likely that a particular teacher comes to mind who made a significant difference for you. I quickly think of Mr. Keenan, Ms. Mills, and others that helped shape how I think and learn and what I wanted to do.

Teachers provide our children with the academic, social and emotional learning opportunities that they need to become global citizens who have the tools necessary to succeed in college and career. Research confirms that teachers are the number one school-related factor in impacting student learning outcomes. For that reason, we must ensure that we have a qualified and well-prepared teacher in every classroom, which requires us to provide teachers with the profession, working conditions, and resources they need.

As the daughter of a teacher and a former teacher myself, I know how incredibly challenging the role can be. But, today it is even harder; and the pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequities that our students and schools face.

The ability to recruit and retain high-quality teachers is critical, but North Carolina continues to experience considerable challenges in most grade levels and subject areas. Educator preparation programs in North Carolina have experienced declining enrollments of more than 50% since 2008-2009.

While students of color comprise over half of the total student population in our state, 80% of our teachers are white. Research has found that students of color have stronger academic and social-emotional outcomes when they have same-race teachers in their classrooms1, and all students are at a disadvantage by not having teachers of color2. These teacher shortages are expected to grow with the pandemic.

So how do we ensure that every child has access to a highly qualified and well-prepared teacher? Fortunately, there are many policy solutions and actions we can take to make a positive impact in this area. The Leandro short-term action plan that addresses how we must invest in our public schools during fiscal year 2021 highlights several of these evidenced-based approaches.

  • We must increase educator compensation and create incentives to enable low-wealth districts to attract and retain qualified and well-prepared teachers. As a means toward lifting North Carolina’s teachers to at a minimum the national average, let’s raise pay for teachers and instructional support staff by at least 5% this year. We must also reinstate retiree health benefits for teachers and all state employees — new employees hired after January 1, 2021 won’t retire with state-subsidized health care; and we must work to regain that important benefit.
  • We must also work harder to significantly increase the racial and ethnic diversity of North Carolina’s qualified and well-prepared teacher workforce. The work resulting from the Governor’s DRIVE Task Force has offered a clear roadmap that contains innovative practices to support this effort. We can support district-based Grow Your Own recruitment programs and expand Teaching Fellows to include Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
  • We must provide high-quality mentoring and induction support for beginning teachers for their first three years to increase both their effectiveness and their retention.
  • We must implement differentiated staffing models that include hybrid and advanced teaching roles and additional compensation to retain and extend the reach of high-performing teachers to help bolster the teaching profession. To do this successfully, we need to be sure that systems have the resources to ensure their success and sustainability.

The teaching profession deserves to be just that – a profession – and we, as a state, have much work to do to elevate this essential role for our students, families, communities, and economy. Our teachers are highly educated and could pursue many other career paths; and we must start early and support those interested in pursuing education.

Investing in our teaching candidates and current teachers is investing in the number one factor that impacts our students’ outcomes. We have the resources, and we understand what it takes to recruit and retain high quality and well-prepared teachers.


Show 2 footnotes
  1. Gershenson, S., Hart, C., Hyman, J., Lindsay, C., & Papageorge, N. W. (2018). The long-run impacts of same-race teachers (No. w25254). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  2. Lash, Martha, and Monica Ratcliffe. “The journey of an African American teacher before and after Brown v. Board of Education.” The Journal of Negro Education 83, no. 3 (2014): 327-337.; Carver-Thomas, D. (2018). Diversifying the teaching profession: How to recruit and retain teachers of color. Learning Policy Institute.
Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.