Teachers on the ‘front lines’ in Charlotte: We’re exhausted.

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Some Charlotte educators say they’re exhausted and unable to find time to plan lessons, prepare for class and grade students’ work.

Staffing shortages across the board, from bus drivers to custodians to teachers, are exacerbating the problem, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators is calling on the community to take notice.

More than 20 people rallied Tuesday evening in front of the Government Center before the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board meeting to “shed light on the current conditions in CMS schools,” according to CMAE leaders who organized the event.

“If it is not addressed, we will face higher COVID-19 numbers in schools, more staffing shortages, and lack of support for our students and their outcomes,” CMAE President Amanda Thompson-Rice said. “We know that our community values education. We want them to hear from educators and allies on the front lines so they know what we need and how to support us.”

Thompson-Rice and others want more funding and more pressure placed on state leaders. Across North Carolina and throughout the country, schools face staff shortages along with increased stress while teachers lead classrooms marked by pandemic interruptions and concern over how students will catch up.

In CMS, 500 teachers have resigned since August, with an additional 91 set to resign by December. Earlier this month, district officials said there were 83 unfilled teacher positions.

“Staff tasked to cover vacancies and absences find themselves in situations where they are unable to do the basic necessities of the day, like eating or using the restroom,” CMS teacher Rae LeGrone said. “Staff are getting sick from exhaustion, and that creates more absences. It’s a vicious cycle.”

CMS addressing shortages

Staff shortages, including substitute teachers, have been a problem since school began in August. CMS has addressed the issues through increases in pay and new initiatives.

Last Friday, the district’s Human Resources department announced the expansion of the Guest Teacher Program and a new instructional substitute performance bonus to help attract more workers.

The Guest Teacher initiative was expanded district-wide to provide at least one guest teacher allocation for every school in the district. Additional allocations will be distributed based on a number of factors, including vacancy and substitute fill rates.

CMS also created a higher pay rate for certified Guest Teachers at $180 per day. The noncertified Guest Teacher rate remains at $150 per day. All guest teaching positions will receive full benefits, and the positions are considered temporary and funded through June 2023.

Also, from Nov. 1 through June, daily substitutes will earn a bonus for completing a minimum number of assignments each month, the district announced. Daily substitutes who work between five and nine assignments each month will receive a $200 bonus, and those who work 10 or more assignments each month will receive a $500 bonus.

“This bonus program is designed to incentivize and recognize our valuable substitutes for their important work and to encourage them to take on additional assignments,” district officials said.

CMS has also raised the starting wage for bus drivers from $15.75 an hour to $17.75 to help the district become more competitive. Districts across the state and nation are experiencing a bus driver shortage.

Parents say shortages are impacting students.

“It isn’t ideal that 2 of my 3 children do not have a full-time licensed teacher to instruct them,” CMS parent Corey Nutting said. “My high school junior is learning pre-calculus mostly through Canvas in a remote learning style while sitting in a high school classroom. And none of my kids have reliable bus transportation to and from school. The daily uncertainty leaves my children exhausted by the time they get home — sometimes at 5 p.m., sometimes not until after 6.”

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‘Now is the time to act’

On Tuesday night, board members voted 8-1 to make Monday, Nov. 1 a work day for teachers to help address the time lost to COVID-19 — time district leaders said has significantly impeded the staff’s ability to plan and implement and properly evaluate their instruction based on student outcomes.

Specifically, the day will help the district’s elementary school teachers complete a “hefty load of state-mandated professional development.”

In April 2021, the state legislature passed updated Read to Achieve legislation that includes a requirement for all pre K-5 teachers who teach literacy to complete LETRS professional development. The deadline to complete the training is August 2022.

According to a CMS communications team member, pre-K teachers complete a one-year course totaling about 35 hours. For K-5 teachers, the entire professional development consists of eight units to be completed over the course of two years. LETRS indicates that the average amount of time to complete a unit is about 20 hours. Six hours of this learning is synchronous in a virtual environment.

CMS has scheduled the synchronous sessions on workdays and early release days throughout the school year.

“The difficulty for completion of this professional development has been exacerbated this year due to a lack of substitutes,” Yaviri Escalera, of the CMS communications team, told the Observer. “This has made it more difficult for teachers to be able to attend synchronous professional development during their work hours.”

Thompson-Rice said something has to give.

“CMAE calls on our school board, our local leaders, our district leadership, our parents, our students, and our allies to put pressure on state leaders to fully fund education in North Carolina,” Thompson-Rice said. “Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time to act. Funding shows where your heart is, and hearts should be with our students.”

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