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'Enough is enough': CMS rolls out guest teacher program as burned out workers call for help

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is introducing a new "guest teacher" program at 42 schools to help fill the gaps by staff shortages across the district.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — School districts nationwide continue to deal with lots of teacher vacancies months into the school year, putting strain on schools and teachers who are actually in the classroom. 

A high school teacher who works for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools told WCNC Charlotte she has to cover another teacher's class at least once a week, pushing the bulk of her prep work to after-school hours. 

“In the past, we've always been able to have at least a good solid sub-pool to pull from when teachers have been out, but that is not the case right now,” the teacher said, wishing to remain anonymous.

Data obtained by WCNC Charlotte shows CMS has substantially fewer subs than in years past. During the 2017-2018 school year, CMS has 2,747 subs. That number has decreased each year since, down to 1,123 last school year during the pandemic. But so far, only 365 people are working as subs this year.

“Students are being taught by different educators daily, leading to a lack of consistency, stress and poor academic performance," Amanda Thompson-Rice said. "We are putting a Band-Aid on gaping wounds of trauma and stress."

CMS is rolling out a new program they hope can bridge the gap. The district's "guest teacher" initiative is being implemented at 42 schools in the district. Just like typical substitute teachers at CMS, the minimum requirements are a high school diploma and being 21 years old. Unlike typical subs, guest teachers will be assigned to a specific school and will earn $150 per day as full-time employees. 

North Carolina is 1 of 15 states in the country that does not specify any education or licensure requirements for substitute teachers.

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"I do think it's positive to keep substitute teachers in one school so they can learn about that school, that community, work with those teachers," Shannon Holston with the National Council on Teacher Quality said. She believes the training guest teachers receive will be the key to success.

CMS says the new guest teacher program will help cover some of these unfilled positions. They'll also fill in when teachers are absent. 

Burned-out teachers are hoping this helps.

"We're already looking at a teacher shortage now, I can't imagine what it's going to look like a year from now if we don't take a step back and say we have to take care of these teachers," one teacher said. "Because if they don't take care of us, we can't take care of their kids. At the end of the day, no matter how much I complain, I'm going to do the best I can for the kids in my class, and ultimately, they're the ones who are suffering through this. They're the ones that are not getting what they deserve."

"I've talked to an administrator who doesn't know how he will fill the gaps of the skeleton crew in his building from day to day," Rae Legrone said. "We spoke of the lack of applications for any position in his building. He knows this shortage is an avalanche this is only growing. As for me, I've covered for vacancies and absent teachers every single day of October."

CMS is also offering a $250 hiring bonus to substitute teachers who complete 10 assignments by the end of October. 

Contact Sarah French at Sarah@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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