Why So Many Subs? Investigating the WCPSS Teacher Shortage

Lucas Moore and Lorelei Zagacki

Up to 3 classes are sometimes held in the Media Center under the supervision of one substitute (Ellie Hamashima)

As of February 4th, 2022, there are a total of 119 job openings in Wake County high schools. Driven by teachers retiring, leaving the profession, transferring to other schools, and entering the private sector, this is an unprecedented statistic that frequently leaves many classes with substitute teachers.

This has had a profound impact on students such as sophomore Izzy Fron.  Fron had a teacher leave midway through the year, and she believes that the classroom environment has suffered because of this upheaval.  Izzy states, “when there is an active teacher, students can learn more and complete their work, but without one, there is slacking off on busy work.” This situation has been seen in classrooms across the school, resulting in students such as Izzy feeling like their learning experience has been affected in a negative way.

These effects extend beyond the classes directly experiencing teacher turnover; they impact the entire Green Hope community. One such example is Green Hope Teacher of the Year Ms. Caroline Moakley, who described her experience this year as “spinning 100 plates all at once.” 

It does feel quite a bit like spinning 100 plates all at once.

— Ms. Caroline Moakley

With average class sizes hovering in the high 30s, creating lesson plans and grading work for around 100 students takes hours upon hours of time. To further exacerbate the issue, when there aren’t enough substitutes in the building teachers must cover classes during their planning periods. Moakley discussed the importance of having that planning period, saying, “We try to avoid having situations where teachers have to use their planning periods to cover classes because then that teacher is not able to plan and grade, and that just snowballs the effect of having large classes and not being able to catch up on your work.”

Moakley said that the increased workload this year has impacted the feedback she is able to give to her students, resulting in less time for specific commentary and advice.

Students from multiple classes work in the Media Center, supervised by Mr. Manuel Jurado. (Ellie Hamashima)

In order to preserve teacher’s planning periods, several classes end up in the Media Center every period under the supervision of school substitute Mr. Manuel Jurado. “With 3 classes, it can be a little overwhelming,” Jurado said. He expressed his gratitude for the Media Center Specialists, Ms. Emily Yates and Ms. Jennifer Dry, who help him manage sometimes close to 100 students in a single period.

But luckily, the situation may be improving soon. Green Hope has had 16 positions open up midway through the 2021-22 school year, ranging from teachers to counselors to administrators. More staff have been hired mid-year than in the entire summer. And to further complicate the situation, the school only had between the start of December and final exams week in early January to fill those positions. One of the key figures in this hiring process is principal Dr. Camille Hedrick, whose focus this year is building a strong, supportive school community. 

The most valuable resource on your campus is your people.

— Dr. Camille Hedrick, Principal

“The most valuable resource on your campus is your people,” Hedrick said. She repeatedly praised her department chairs, teachers, and support staff for their hard work during this difficult time. Hedrick and her department chairs spent winter break interviewing and giving school tours to prospective faculty.

“We had a lot of people to bring in…and we had to do it in such a way that they are set up for success. And that, in a positive way, takes a toll on the other staff,” she said.

In the end, Green Hope successfully filled all 16 open positions with people who are, in Hedrick’s eyes, “home run hitters.” She stressed the importance of building a supportive, welcoming community, saying that good teachers “only work where they are welcome and they feel effective and they can do their job well,” and that, “if they don’t feel good, they’ll go work somewhere else.” But, if they’re set up for success and given the resources they need, Hedrick believes they’ll stay.

Every student deserves a good teacher

— Dr. Camille Hedrick, Principal

The number of position openings in Wake County schools is still quite high, most individual high schools have more than ten, and some more than 20. At the time of writing, Green Hope only lists six job openings, which speaks to the amazing community that Hedrick attributes to teachers, staff, students, and their families. 

Hedrick summed up her approach to building Green Hope’s staff by saying, “it matters to me that we have good teachers and that we have good staff members.” The teacher turnover present this year has certainly been difficult for students, teachers, and administrators, but the influx of new faces into the building will, Hedrick hopes, mitigate these issues and influence the Green Hope community for the better.