RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Of the more than 5,000 vacant teacher positions at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, the state’s biggest challenge was filling positions for core classes in the K-5 schools.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s State of the Teaching Profession Report was presented to the state Board of Education Wednesday.

That report showed across North Carolina, there were 5,540 instructor vacancies on the first day of school for the 2021-22 school year, which represents a nearly six percent vacancy rate and a higher rate than the previous school year.

The 2020-21 school year saw 3,792 vacancies on the first day of school, representing a vacancy rate of about four percent.

Forty days into the school year, the state’s report showed districts were still slow to fill those rolls with only 448 of those positions filled. Forty days into the 2021-22 school year, 578 positions were filled.

Broken down by subject area, the hardest subjects to staff were core K-5 math, English language arts, science and social studies. The state reported about 1,224 vacancies in that area.

Those vacancies were double in the second-hardest area to staff, which was exceptional children with 444 vacancies.

The president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, Tamika Walker Kelly, said the data sheds light on the need to invest not only in teacher salary, but mentorship programs and incentives to keep new teachers in their field.

“Many of our beginning teachers are deciding that they can choose a different profession that does not cause that sort of stress or does not have that sort of workload,” Walker Kelly said. “Beginning teachers need an increased amount support, meaning mentors in the building, targeted professional development that allows them to make continue to make career games in the content area and how they teach.”

The report does try to shed some optimism, saying teachers are largely remaining in the classroom.

The overall vacancy rate for the 2021-22 school year was reported as 7.8 percent. The previous school year saw an overall vacancy of 8.2 percent.

A large chunk, 42 percent, of teachers who left cited “personal reasons” for their decision.

The state report said early-career teachers leave at high rates than their experienced counterparts. It’s why they were targeted for salary increases in 2015.

“It would be prudent, however, for the state to monitor the effect of this salary increase on early-career teachers’ decisions to remain employed in NC public schools. If attrition rates among this group of teachers do not respond to the increased salary, the state could benefit from probing deeper into these teachers’ motivations for pursuing their teaching careers in other states or leaving the profession altogether,” the report recommended.