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The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

Best of SNO

The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

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Four-day school weeks: a possible solution to teacher retention

Katie Spampinato
Sam Kuhlemeier works quietly in class while her teacher is away administering the Practice ACT. Kuhlemeier uses the free period to catch up on Chemistry homework.

As schools across the nation grapple with teacher shortages, one solution being explored is a four-day school week. With 900 school districts operating on a shortened week, working educators, administrators and district-level employees highlight the rising problems in the profession. 

Beth Keefer is the Assistant Principal of Instruction for Wakefield High School. With several years of educational experience, she notes that the reason behind these shortened weeks is beyond educator income. 

“For one thing, [four-day weeks] get into helping with shortages, particularly with bus drivers,” Keefer said. “I’m aware [that] every district in North Carolina has a shortage [of] bus drivers, and so [four-day weeks] would condense the week schedule.” 

Not only are there several missing bus driver positions, but there are multiple empty teacher positions. Teacher shortages remain a preventable problem in the US and North Carolina districts. Kirsten Oshinsky is a teacher at Paisley Magnet Middle School in Winston-Salem. Oshinsky has been a long-time advocate for educator rights and has seen the loss of passionate teachers in the profession. 

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“We’re looking at three problems: the first issue [being] teacher shortages, the second issue [is] paying people what they deserve and the third [issue] we have is because of those two [problems] not working,” Oshinsky said. “We have students leaving traditional public schools and going to charter schools or private schools at a rate that’s [very] high because they’re seeking those certified professional teachers.”

When schools lose more and more teachers, they are faced with tough choices. Schools may hire teachers without teaching degrees to fill vacant positions. Oshinskey has seen this first-hand. 

I think the challenge is how do we communicate that to lawmakers and the general public to really let them know how challenging it is to be a teacher.

— Muttillo

“In my school, we have about two-thirds of our teachers [that] have some teaching certificate or credentials, and we have one-third of what is called lateral entry teachers,” Oshinskey said. “[They’re] people who want to be teachers but have to take in some cases a single education class.” 

What could be a solution to this problem is to make teaching more appealing. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the expectations on teachers have greatly increased. Teachers find that they are left with little time to tend to issues like mental health and personal wellness. Dr. A.J. Muttillo is the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Wake County Public Schools and has been deeply engaged in the teacher shortage issue. 

“I think the pandemic might have helped exacerbate it,… but this is something that’s been building for a long time,” Muttillo said. “In North Carolina, our salaries are lower compared to the rest of the country.”

Factors impacting teacher working conditions include lower pay, increased class sizes in high schools, high absentee rates of students and classroom coverage during planning periods. To better teacher retention, four-day school weeks may be the solution. 

Haley Harrison-Jones has a busy job at Wakefield this year including teaching several math classes, leading the math department and is an administrative intern. This gives her a dual perspective on the daily demands of a teacher as well as dealing with the pressure to fill vacant teacher positions.

“Our paperwork is already overwhelming and it gets more and more. It stacks up higher every year,” Harrison said. “So that would be something the state could do to help us breathe.” 

A four-day school week may indeed have some downsides for parents who have young children who cannot be left unsupervised during the day. However, the extra day may give teachers more time to catch up with the rush of the school year and tend to their wellness, leading to better retention rates. 

The multiple demands on a teacher’s time impacting job satisfaction are not lost on Muttillo either. He suggests that discourse between educators, the community and lawmakers may help solve this crisis.

“I think the challenge is how do we communicate that to lawmakers and the general public to really let them know how challenging it is to be a teacher,” said Muttillo, “so that we can get the best and the brightest teaching our kids every day.

This story was originally published on The Howler on December 4, 2023.