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Perspective | Recruiting and supporting educators is critical for North Carolina’s children

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The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the June 16, 2024 episode of Education Matters featuring the 2024-25 Beginning Teachers of the Year.

Last month we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. Teachers were given messages, tokens of appreciation, honors, and celebrations to express the sometimes unspoken gratitude those impacted by their work feel. For many educators, this reminder that they are appreciated and respected was much needed. Education is a demanding career field, and in recent years it’s unfortunately also been a controversial one, making Teacher Appreciation Week all the more important as a reminder to our educators that they are valued. However, just one week is not enough. If we truly want to value our educators we must do so throughout the year, and at every stage of their careers.

Uplifting education as the invaluable profession that it is is vital for both retaining veteran educators and continuing to attract highly effective new educators who can help students succeed for years to come. Our 2024 North Carolina Beginning Teacher of the Year Abigail Bentley and finalists Samantha Shaw, Cassidy Upton, and Sydney Smith exemplify just how impactful beginning teachers can be. In the brief time they’ve had in the classroom so far, they’ve already been able to build connections with students and colleagues and demonstrate the capacity to be leaders within their school communities.

These are the kind of educators we need. These are the kind of educators who can touch the lives of decades’ worth of students when given the right support. Unfortunately, it will become increasingly more difficult to find this kind of educator if we don’t act quickly to address North Carolina’s struggling teacher pipeline. The number of students enrolling in educator preparation programs has decreased in recent years. To fix this we must fix the perception — and reality — of the teaching profession through competitive compensation and opportunities for career advancement, and we must address unnecessary barriers to entry into the profession.

Also vital to continuing to be able to staff our public schools with effective educators is supporting them. Even the most outstanding teachers face burnout. This has always been true because teaching is not an easy job and many teachers are willing to go above and beyond for their students. However, added stressors such as the still very potent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the politicization of schools have exacerbated teacher burnout. This is especially true for new teachers who in many cases can feel immediately overwhelmed. Teacher turnover has been high in recent years, and a large number of those leaving the classroom were first-year teachers. We simply have to do better at providing teachers the support they need — whether that be measures to increase capacity, prioritizing mental health, or both — so that they can have long-lasting, fulfilling classroom careers.

By addressing the issues facing North Carolina’s educator pipeline and providing educators with the resources and respect owed to them as professionals we can build a diverse, highly effective teacher workforce that can serve countless students, and we can retain those teachers so they can eventually serve as mentors to the new teachers who come behind them. That is how we show teachers that we appreciate them — by honoring the profession and making sure that it remains a viable one for those with a passion for education, and for our children who need teachers able to guide them to success.

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.