At the University of South Carolina’s College of Education, we are committed to recruiting and educating a cadre of future teachers, but recruiting is only a small part of the remedy for the state’s severe teacher shortage. The key to success is retention.
Last year, 6,482 S.C. teachers did not return to their classroom, according to the S.C. Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, and that number is rising each year. Even when teachers leave one school and join another, the impact on those schools and their students is immense: student learning losses in many cases are never recovered.
Additionally, teacher turnover costs S.C. school districts $23 million each year, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. This includes recruiting, hiring and training a new teacher but does not include district-level costs or other hidden expenses. If we could reduce the number of teachers leaving their current teaching positions by just 25 percent, we could save districts nearly $6 million annually.
How do we increase retention? Teacher support is key. Here at USC, we are implementing a three-year induction program to help new teachers through those often difficult first years of teaching. Simply put, we are committed to supporting teachers and increasing the likelihood they will stay in their classrooms.
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We also need to do more to change the conversation about the teaching profession. It’s easy to find criticisms of public education and teachers. Why would anyone aspire to become a teacher when there is so little respect for the profession? We need to do more to encourage those in the profession to stay and to inspire the best and brightest to choose teaching. This ultimately will include raising teacher salaries.
Some have suggested that we can solve our shortage with more alternative pathways to teacher certification. Last year in South Carolina, more than 65 percent of all teachers hired came from “traditional” pathways, whereas PACE (South Carolina’s state-run alternative pathway), ABCTE (a private non-profit entity that the state has authorized to certify teachers) and Teach for America in total account for about 8 percent of teachers hired. The rest came from other states or countries or were inactive teachers returning to teaching.
One question I frequently hear is, “Why isn’t someone with a content degree qualified to teach in the public schools?” This question focuses on creating quicker, less rigorous pathways so more individuals can qualify and fill our classrooms. This is not a solution, as many alternative, fast-track approaches simply de-professionalize teaching by emphasizing that a degree and a passion for children is all that is needed. Indeed, it’s hard for me to believe that intelligent, well-meaning individuals would be willing to short change our youth with teachers who lack the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to be effective, culturally competent educators.
I am hard-pressed to find other professions that have been subjugated to the ‘anyone with a degree can do this’ mentality.
I am hard-pressed to find other professions that have been subjugated to the “anyone with a degree can do this” mentality. And those who seek alternative certification typically leave the profession earlier and in higher numbers than those in traditional teacher education programs, exacerbating our retention problems.
If we are going to address the teacher shortage, we must focus equally on recruitment and retention efforts, and we must include both traditional and alternative routes that embody rigorous standards for teacher preparation. Our college is committed to looking to other states such as Kentucky, whose universities are creating alternative pathways that are substantial and of high quality, and working with our colleagues across the state to create similar opportunities.
If we continue to attempt to go it alone, our progress will be minimal. It is only through joint efforts that we will be able to recruit and retain the teachers we need for all schools and all children in South Carolina.
Dr. Pedersen is dean of the USC College of Education; contact him at email@example.com.