08/15/05 — Keeping teachers in the classroom

View Archive

Keeping teachers in the classroom

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 15, 2005 1:51 PM

Wayne County Public School officials say they have been working long and hard to offset the growing teacher shortage.

Every year, there is a turnover of educators lost to retirement and military reassignments, but the biggest challenge faced is in competing with other markets for the same pool of teachers.

"All across the state of North Carolina, we're in a quest for highly qualified teachers," Edward Cromartie, assistant superintendent for human resources, recently told the school board. He said the school system currently employs 1,396 certified teachers, including support staff such as guidance counselors and social workers. Of those, 1,248 are full-time.

The pay scale is fixed at the state and federal levels, he said, so local school systems realize the importance of having the right incentives to entice and retain teachers.

The teacher supplement funded by county commissioners has been a help, he said, but is not guaranteed from year to year. The supplement is not merely a bonus, he added, but a staple to keep the school system competitive with surrounding counties.

Cromartie said his staff focuses a lot of energy on recruiting and retaining teachers. Annual recruitment trips to job fairs at colleges and other states can start as early as February and continue through April.

Debbie Durham, human resource lead teacher, said she recently counted the number of vacancies in the school system and came up with the need for 49 classroom teachers. With the school calendar changed to start later in August, she is confident the positions will be filled.

She said over the years she has learned to do her homework to effectively target where to find candidates.

"We kind of listen to the news, will have people e-mail us, so we look at where most of the applications are coming from," she said. "Then, we know that's a place to go."

She said it's only wise to go where the market will bear.

"We go to states that have an abundance, where we know we're going to find qualified teachers," she said, giving Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio as some examples.

"What's happening, I know in Minnesota, are cutbacks in education, enlarging the class size and creating less of a need."

Enlisting teachers from other countries is another option that has worked well in Wayne County, Mrs. Durham said. The school system has utilized the Visiting International Faculty, or VIF program, based in Chapel Hill, to provide teachers where needed.

"We started out looking for English-as-a-second-language and foreign language, especially Spanish, teachers," she said. "It has broadened."

In 2004-05, 18 VIF teachers worked at all grade levels in the school system. Thirty have been hired for the coming school year.

The lateral entry teaching program has also been well-received, Mrs. Durham said.

At the annual job fair this year, she said, she saw more lateral entry teachers than in years past.

A lateral entry teacher, she explained, must have a four-year degree in a content area closely related to what he or she plans to teach. He or she then has up to three years to complete any and all requirements to be certified.

Meanwhile, the school system takes an active role in supporting all staff, especially those new to the profession.

For lateral entry teachers, there is a 10-day orientation that must be completed prior to going into the classroom, Mrs. Durham said.

"We meet monthly and talk about such things as discipline, classroom management and teaching strategies," she said. There are also a variety of supplement programs scheduled for them throughout the school year.

All first-, second-, and third-year teachers are assigned a mentor, as mandated by the state. The mentor is paid $100 a month by state or Federal funds, depending on how the teacher's position is covered.

"The mentor is there for support, to help them with classroom management, lesson plans, understanding standard course of study and testing requirements," she said. "They're supposed to meet weekly for a minimum of 30 minutes, for at least two hours a month."

Mrs. Durham said the No. 1 reason teachers give for leaving the teaching profession is support, or lack thereof. Because of that, she has made it her mission to nurture those she serves.

"I feel that it's my role, my responsibility, to make sure that our teachers, the beginning teachers, have that support," she said. "I'm here for them."

She said she often affectionately refers to them as her "babies."

"I'm going to fight for them," she said. "I'm going to be that support that they need. That's real important to us keeping our teachers."

Regular staff development opportunities are offered for new as well as veteran teachers throughout the school year. There are also a variety of incentives used by the school system and its supporters.

Ken Benton heads the education committee for the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce. He likened the competition to that of a big fish eating up the smaller fish.

"Johnston County offers a supplement and sign-on bonus," he said. "Some other counties around us have tried to give more money to the teachers. That's why you have a movement.

"Teachers in Wayne County have a year or two, then move to Johnston County, let's say. They get a bonus, later on go to Raleigh. The 'bigger fish' are getting the teachers.

"Smaller counties are kind of left behind."

He said Wayne County has excellent teachers, but it can be easy to lose them to better-paying markets.

The education committee has worked to come up with incentives and perks to entice teachers to this market, he said. Members have canvassed area businesses for discounts to goods and services.

It also spearheads a mini-grant program, funded by such efforts as the annual Spelling Bee, awarded twice to help teachers better execute projects they want to do in their classrooms.

Kristy Fair, public relations officer with the school system, said there are also several efforts geared toward "growing your own" teachers, starting at the high school level.

Two examples are the N.C. Teaching Fellows program and the teacher's scholarship funded by the county commissioners. Each offer scholarships to students planning to pursue a teaching degree, with their loan forgiven upon completion of a commitment to teach for a certain number of years.

One organization, Principals and Assistant Principals Association, also holds fundraisers during the year for scholarships given to educate instructional assistants.

"The whole idea of recruiting teachers is a challenge and we have to work hard to get our share," admitted Cromartie.

"But we also feel like we can entice folks simply because it's a nice, basically quiet, place to live ... quality of life. It's just a good place to raise a family. That's a good calling card within itself."