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NC saw no teacher exodus during the pandemic’s first year, report shows

A math class at East Mecklenburg High School.
Ann Doss Helms
A math class at East Mecklenburg High School.

Despite all the talk about pandemic-related teacher shortages, North Carolina's annual teacher attrition tally shows there was no surge in departures during the first year of the pandemic.

The report shows 8.2% of North Carolina’s 94,342 teachers resigned, retired or were fired between March 2020 and March 2021. Thomas Tomberlin of the Department of Public Instruction told the state Board of Education that’s normal.

“The state of the teaching profession is stable in light of the pandemic,” Tomberlin said. “We do not see a dramatic increase in teacher attrition.”

The percent of teachers leaving one North Carolina school district or charter school to go to another, known as mobility, was well below average at 3%, he said.

“And that’s quite understandable given the difficulty one, of the housing market in the state of North Carolina in this time, as well as the difficulty of relocating due to COVID and the pandemic,” he said.

NC Department of Public Instruction

The state asks teachers to select from a list of reasons for leaving their jobs. The latest report shows a spike in teachers saying their reasons did not fit any of the categories offered, with just over 25% choosing “other.” That compares with less than 10% in the previous two years.

Resignations attributed to health or disability dropped slightly, from 219 the previous year to 203. The report says 74 teachers died, compared with 64 the year before.

Not the full picture

The report might seem to contradict widespread reports of teacher shortages. It does not account for classes left temporarily uncovered when teachers were sick or had to quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19. Nor does it cover the second year of the pandemic, as the delta and omicron variants swept through communities and educators reported exhaustion with the ongoing challenges.

A new report out of South Carolina shows the number of vacant teacher positions more than doubled from February 2021 to last month. Vacancies are a snapshot of unfilled positions; the numbers change constantly as teachers leave and are hired. The report by the Rock Hill-based Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement found South Carolina had 515 teacher vacancies in February 2021 and 1,121 a year later.

Source: NC Department of Public Instruction

The North Carolina report cites vacancies for the 40th day of the 2020-21 school year, which fell in October 2020. At that point, North Carolina has about 3,200 vacancies or 3.4%.

Numbers for Charlotte area

Attrition for school districts tends to run higher than the state average because teachers who leave for another job in North Carolina public schools count toward the district attrition rate but not the state’s.

Most districts in the Charlotte region saw attrition above 10%, including 11.6% in CMS. As of the 40th day of school, in October 2020, CMS had a vacancy rate below 1%, with 80 of 9,630 teacher spots open.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.