Like the rest of the nation, South Carolina continues to face a shortage of math and science teachers in its public schools.
Thats bad news for school districts struggling to fill middle and high school vacancies in key areas of algebra, geometry and calculus, and for employers seeking to fill jobs in math- and science-related fields.
But for soon-to-be-math education graduates like Martin Sims and Emmaline Horton? Lets just say they wont be bunking in their families basements as they try to find jobs in a still-shaky economy.
The more and more conferences I go to, I really get an outlook on how much we are needed, said Sims, 24, who will graduate in August, complete S.C. National Guard training in the fall and be ready to teach in January 2015. I didnt realize how much of a hot commodity we were.
Having a masters (degree) coming out of South Carolina, I feel like Im pretty highly qualified, said Horton, 22.
Like Sims, Horton holds an undergraduate degree in math from the University of South Carolina and is spending a fifth year earning her masters in teaching. I feel like I have pretty good job security because education is everywhere.
Horton, from Charlottesville, Va., and Sims, who is from Columbia, are among 12 masters candidates graduating from USC this year with a teaching degree that concentrates on math. They will be doing a second rotation of student teaching this spring Horton at A.C. Flora High School and Sims at Keenan High School and hope to have signed contracts by the time they walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.
That confidence could be contagious, if USC education professor Ed Dickey has anything to do with it.
With a new financial gift in hand from Duke Energy Foundation, Dickey hopes to quadruple the number of graduates in math and science education in coming years so USC reliably can send out 50 math teachers and 50 science teachers annually.
We dont graduate enough majors to meet the demand, said Dickey, a professor in the Department of Instruction and Teacher Education. We are not very good at being there when that little light bulb goes off in their head.
According to the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, the percent of total bachelors degrees awarded in mathematics and statistics in 2012-13 was 1.1 percent 252 degrees out of 23,584. Fewer than 150 also were concentrating on education with the intention to enter the classroom. That is minuscule compared to business, management and marketing programs, which awarded roughly a quarter of bachelors degrees each year.
The S.C. Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, at Winthrop University, said that shortage has dogged the state for years. In its 2013 Teacher/Administrator Supply and Demand Survey, math and science vacancies are surpassed only by vacancies in special education at the elementary level.
As long as I have been responsible for this survey, it has been most definitely a problem, said Jennifer Garrett, the centers coordinator of research and program development. The center oversees the Teacher Cadet and Teacher Fellows programs, aimed at encouraging high school students to consider the teaching profession. But Garrett said stigmas still exist, including a sense among young people that teaching is not as valued by society as in years past.
The center has found that, on average, 5,200 S.C. public school teachers leave the classroom each year, including nearly 1,200 who retire from the profession. But South Carolinas teacher education programs at colleges and universities supply fewer than 2,200 graduates a year.
With the Duke gift, USCs College of Education will launch the Teach Science and Mathematics campaign to recruit more students to teach in middle and high school. With assistance from USCs School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Columbia advertising and public relations firm Injeanious Media, the campaign will utilize social media, videos and other technology to attract math and science majors to the teaching profession. The university is also working with the Association of Land-Grant Universities as part of its campaign to recruit teachers.
Dickey said the effort runs in concert with the national 100k in10 effort launched in 2011 to recruit 100,000 teachers in science, math, technology and engineering by 2021.
For upcoming graduates like Horton and Sims, the seeds of a teaching career were planted in high school.
Both were adept at math and Horton said her mother, a math teacher, and her father, an engineer, made sure math problems were not seen as scary. But she said too many students think its OK to say I cant do math when they would never make such a blanket statement about English or social studies.
Sims said he decided to be a teacher in his sophomore year of college, after deciding to major in math and minor in education.
Ive always been good in math and, when I got to college, I had to decide between engineering and math., Sims said. My passion lies in developing others. Being good in math, I will be able to develop others through math.