As S.C. students prepare to return to school later this month, state education leaders are studying how to keep more of their teachers in the classroom.
Roughly 6,500 teachers left their jobs last year. Another 4,000 could leave the classroom when a popular retirement perk – the TERI program – ends next year.
The turnover in the classroom is “nothing short of alarming,” said Jane Turner, executive director of the Center for Educator Recruitment Retention & Advancement at Winthrop University.
Concerned about those losses, a group of educators and others began searching Thursday for ways to recruit and retain more teachers.
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To counter the classroom losses, the panel will be looking at whether existing teacher retention and recruitment programs are working or should be improved, state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said.
One key, another educator said, is convincing young teachers not to quit early in their careers.
High turnover across S.C. schools
Last year, 6,500 S.C. teachers left their teaching positions, according to a report by the Center for Educator Recruitment.
That is about 13 percent of the state’s roughly 50,000 teaching positions.
Most of those who quit did so to retire or for personal reasons.
Another 25 percent went to another teaching job in another district, Turner said.
While that is not a loss to the profession across the state, it creates a hardship for the districts that the teachers leave, Turner said. Differences among school districts make it difficult for rural schools to attract teachers.
Another 23 percent of the teachers who left the classroom left the profession altogether, Turner said.
Often, those teachers are unwilling to give the real reason they quit. However, they often leave because they feel frustrated or overwhelmed, do not feel supported, or because of poor conditions at a school and the lack of supplies, Turner said.
Those same issues can contribute to making the profession unattractive to potential teachers.
Few resources, high-stakes testing and a lack of classroom autonomy discourage potential teachers from entering the profession, said Falicia Harvey of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.
But higher pay for S.C. teachers will be a hard sell.
Many other state employees at turnover-plagued state agencies – the Highway Patrol, Social Services, prisons and Mental Health – also are underpaid, compared with their peers in other states and the private sector.
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Panel members did not discuss teacher pay in-depth Thursday. However, other forms of aid – college loan forgiveness programs, for example – can help attract new teachers, Turner said.
Retaining S.C. teachers a priority
Long-term, doing a better job of retaining teachers could be more important than recruiting new ones, Turner said.
Many teachers quit the profession during their first few years in the classroom.
Of the teachers who quit, 12 percent had taught only one year. Another 38 percent left within their first five years.
Said Turner: “We’ve got a great disparity between the folks coming into the profession and those leaving and, in many cases, leaving too soon.”
Teachers leaving the classroom
Nearly 6,500 S.C. teachers didn’t return to their classroom for the 2016-17 school year, according to an annual report on teachers by the Center for Educator Recruitment Retention & Advancement. That is 21 percent more than the 5,352 teachers who left last school year. Part of the issue, experts say, is low pay. Last year, a new teacher in the Midlands with a bachelor’s degree was paid:
Richland 1: $35,532
Richland 2: $36,094
Lexington-Richland 5: $33,715
Lexington 1: $32,804
Lexington 2: $33,134
Lexington 3: $32,396
Lexington 4: $32,440
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Education