Staff Shortage Leads Teachers To Forgo A Planning Period

District leaders approved extra pay for teachers willing to teach four classes instead of three


Bella Madariaga, Online Editor

This year, schools around the country have been experiencing a teacher shortage. In response, Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) offered teachers the option to add on a fourth class for an extra bonus to ensure that there is a teacher available for every class.  

English teacher Jaya Martin decided to teach a fourth class because she taught the course previously and enjoys the material.  

“I teach an English IV Academic first period, two English IV Honors second and fourth period and one combined English I Academic/Honors third period,” Martin said. 

Sarah Cannon, another teacher who is taking on a fourth English class, has a positive attitude about the change this year. 

“I’ve actually been surprised that it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I’ve not had any discipline issues in any of the classes yet, so that definitely makes the day easier if everyone behaves and is trying their best in the class,” Cannon said. 

For Martin, many of the foreseen expectations were spot on.  

“My main expectation was that my day would go by faster having so much to do. That definitely came true,” said Martin. “Another expectation was having to stay later after school to set up for the next day: making copies, scheduling assignments in Google Classroom, rewriting information on the board, etc.” 

Teaching a fourth class substitutes the teacher’s planning period. Not having time to take a break or organize for upcoming classes can make it more difficult to teach effectively. However, Cannon and Martin still teach their classes just as well as any other teacher. 

“It has not stopped me from delivering the content,” Martin said. “The main thing I miss about planning is the opportunity to sit down and have some quiet during the day. I find that I’m on my feet a lot more than before.”

Regardless, having an extra workload can take its toll. 

“It hasn’t changed how I feel about coming to work, but it is a little harder to get out of bed in the morning,” Cannon said. 

“It has made me weary about missing any days. With 120 students and no planning period, I would not want anyone to have to substitute or cover my classes for a day. My students are wonderful, but the schedule takes practice and endurance,” Martin added. 

Math teacher Eric Marsh worries less about time to finish planning content, but rather focusing in on delivering it. 

“Most of the lessons I’ve planned I’ve already completed in prior years, so it’s less about developing new material and more about honing the existing material,” Marsh said. 

Another Math teacher, Melinda Hillman, juggles 160 students a day, including homeroom. 

“I am struggling to remember all 135 students’ names; 160 names if I count my homeroom students. I can recognize everyone’s face and the period they are in, but I am struggling with names,” Hillman said. 

Teachers with a fourth class often have to stay after school longer or do the bulk of their work on the weekends to be prepared for the week. Much of the motivation to take on extra work comes from the financial benefits. 

“I haven’t had a paycheck yet with the extra money, but I hope that it will be a nice pay bump and help me build up my savings account,” said Cannon. 

Martin views the fourth class as a bonus for when school is out of session. 

“I try not to think about the pay when it comes to teaching,” Martin said. “It’s worth it to save a little extra for the non-paying summer months; however, knowing that a new teacher could be hired at any time and make it unnecessary for me to have an extra class to make said extra pay, I don’t count on it for monthly expenses. “

While it’s unclear if the fourth class option will be available long term for teachers, it’s safe to say that the teacher shortage will run rampant in WCPSS until some fundamental changes in the education system take place.

“I think the shortage has been a long time coming, and it’s not going to get better until there are some real changes in the education system and the expectations that society has placed on teachers,” Cannon said. “I know a lot of teachers that are on the verge of retirement, and I don’t think there are going to be enough new teachers to replace them in the next few years. It’s not just a problem at our school or in our district. It’s a nationwide problem, so I think there is a bigger systemic issue that needs to be solved.”

Marsh believes that the solution to the teacher shortage is to increase pay and reduce unnecessary oversight.

“Currently, teachers are put through a constant evaluation process that can easily be abused by administrators to isolate or oust instructors. Our administrators at Wake Forest High School do not do this; they’re truly awesome individuals and I’m glad to have them on my side, “ Marsh said. “But that evaluation process is something that is forced on them as much as it is forced on us teachers. It’s a county and state-level thing that truly makes it feel like being a teacher in North Carolina is like balancing on a knife’s edge. If teachers were paid for their expertise, provided meaningful raises as experience accrues, and given the respect to more effectively self-regulate, I think there may never have been a shortage in the first place.”

However, while the fourth class stays as an option, it remains a decision for teachers that take some time to think about. Cannon offers some advice to teachers who might be interested. 

“If they don’t have too many other responsibilities outside of school then it is manageable. All of my children are grown, so I’m not running around anymore in the evenings taking kids to sports or helping them with homework, etc. I wouldn’t do it if I had little kids at home,” Cannon said. 

Martin prioritizes maintaining self care and time to relax. 

“Eat breakfast. Make sure to take time to sit down and breathe during lunch. Also, plan your bathroom breaks and have snacks in your desk for between classes,” Martin said.