South Carolina’s teacher shortage is no longer looming. It has arrived. The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement reports that 6,500 teachers did not return to their positions for the 2016-17 school year.
Combined with a possible exodus of experienced teachers due to the end of the TERI program and declining enrollments in colleges of education, the demand for teachers could overwhelm our shrinking supply.
As a teacher of world language for 16 years, and as chair of the S.C. House Education Committee, we are alarmed by studies that show nearly half of all teachers quit within the first five years on the job.
Reasons vary, but include ineffective school leadership, heavy workloads, challenging student behavior, low pay, lack of control and autonomy, constant changes, lack of parental involvement and low student achievement. The most consistently cited factors are challenging work conditions and the lack of support and respect.
Teachers will not give up if we can make it our priority to provide them with nurturing relationships based on love, respect and support.
Teachers face challenging classroom environments. When the demand of delivering high-quality instruction is strained by discipline problems and diverse learning styles, it is a wonder more new teachers do not look to a different profession. So how can we keep teachers in the classroom?
There is no panacea, but teachers will not give up if we can make it our priority to provide them with nurturing relationships based on love, respect and support.
Studies show that educators are more interested in teaching in schools with good working conditions than they are with increased pay. When schools manage and effectively respond to student behavioral problems, and give teachers more say in school operations, teacher retention increases. Moreover, teachers who work with a mentor and have regular and supportive communication with an administrator are more likely to stay in the profession.
This means principals should be checking in with regularly their teachers to see how they can help. They should proactively provide resources and professional development to help strengthen teachers’ areas of weakness.
New teachers should be provided with a meaningful relationship with a mentor/master teacher who provides weekly guidance and feedback, and all teachers should be given input and allowed to make decisions that directly impact student learning.
When teachers say they are having difficulty with a disruptive student, principals should take immediate action to administer meaningful and logical consequences to send a message to everyone that the teacher and the learning environment must be respected.
When we make these human relationships the priority over more technology, newer facilities and more advanced programs, schools will have better learning environments where everyone can thrive.
Finally, we would be remiss if we did not say that high-quality supportive relationships are not just for teachers. Principals, superintendents and students desperately need them as well. Everyone can thrive when we have someone who truly believes in us, trusts us, cares about our well-being, gives us corrective feedback, speaks the truth and never gives up on us.
When we start investing our education dollars in these human relationships and make them the priority over more technology, newer facilities and more advanced programs, schools will have better learning environments where everyone can thrive, and everyone will want to stay.
Fortunately, there is hope for South Carolina’s teachers. Teachers have always been heroes, but now it is time for us to step up and be their hero. It’s time for us to give them support so they can reach their full potential and, in turn, help students reach theirs.
Lowell Milken, founder of the System for Teacher and Student Advancement, said it best: “It is time for policy makers, communities, school boards, and other leaders to elevate the voices of successful educators, and provide them with both the flexibility and funding to increase their effectiveness and their student’s learning. Just as educators develop the human potential of their students, let us make a commitment to develop the human potential of educators themselves.”
Ms. Torres was the only S.C. teacher to win the 2016 Milken Educator Award; Rep. Allison is a Spartanburg County Republican. Contact them at RitaAllison@schouse.gov or firstname.lastname@example.org.